Forest Service gets input on Green Mountain plan, will drop proposal for overhead power lines and may scale back some other parts of the plan; decision expected in the next few weeks
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — The U.S. Forest Service won’t pursue a new set of overhead power lines for a campground improvement project at Green Mountain Reservoir, and may cut some other parts of a large-scale proposal that is nearing final approval. Read the Forest Service draft environmental assessment here.
“When I came to the White River National Forest six months ago, one of the first questions I asked was, what ARRA projects do we have,” forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said, referring to federal stimulus funds allocated to the Forest Service last year.
As part of the economic recovery program, the Dillon District was awarded $1.475 million for Green Mountain Reservoir. Those funds have to be obligated by Sept. 30, 2010, Fitzwilliams said.
Speaking at public meeting in Heeney Thursday, Fitzwilliams said he was pleased with the answer when he learned that the Green Mountain improvements probably could qualify for the federal subsidy.
“I said, excellent. We’ll have a ribbon-cutting, a barbecue … Everybody loves a campground,” he said wryly, explaining that he wasn’t expecting the plan to be controversial.
But when a draft study for the campground and boat-launch improvements was released late last month, local officials started to wave warning flags. They said parts of the plan to add developed camp sites, a boat launch and even a full-fledged marina operation don’t mesh with the county’s vision of the Lower Blue valley. Millions of dollars have been spent on protecting the rural agricultural character of the area. Large-scale development, even if it’s for recreation, is not appropriate, according to the county commissioners.
Local officials also expressed concern that the focus of the Forest Service plan has shifted too far away from the need to protect the water from invasive zebra mussels, and that the agency was proceeding toward a decision without adequate local public input. Some residents of the Lower Blue asked the Forest Service to resubmit its plan through the local planning process. Some of the local concerns were are outlined in this Summit Voice story.
Other local concerns included the status of the existing marina in Heeney, as well as the fate of several other small local businesses catering to campers, boaters and anglers. Some Heeney-area residents said the plan was being pushed through in a way that doesn’t address the concerns of local residents. Get more information about Green Mountain Reservoir here.
As presented, the proposal includes several options, including the elimination of shoreline camping at the popular Cow Creek areas, to be replaced by a more formal camping area, away from the water. A new boat launch, with facilities to ensure protection against invasive mussels is a key part of the plan, and a commercial marina operation is a future option.
Fitzwilliams explained that the White River Forest plan designates national forest lands at Green Mountain area as a developed recreation site. The agency’s guidelines call for all camp sites to be at least 150 feet away from the water influence zone. White River recreation specialist Rich Doak said that, at some point, the agency would have to deal with all the shoreline campsites at Green Mountain.
Dillon District recreation staff officer Ken Waugh said the proposal includes an option of looking at the shoreline camping areas on a site-by-site basis to determine if resource impacts can be mitigated. Under that option, at least some of the popular spots near the water could be retained.
Everyone agreed that the safety issues with access and egress from Highway 9 need to be addressed. Doak said that work alone would cost about $500,000. Replacing the campsites could cost about $15,000 to $20,000 per spot, he added. Cost of the new boat launch is estimated at about $380,000. A new well to provide drinking water would cost about $20,000.
Some residents said the improvements could bring a flood of new traffic to the area, but the Forest Service rejected that concern, explaining that the idea is to replace the existing spots, not add new capacity, and to attract more mid-week campers to make the operation more fiscally sustainable.
“Let’s not create fear-mongering,” Fitzwilliams said sharply. “We’re not building a new ski area down here,”
In the end, Fitzwilliams said he thought he’d be able to pick and choose items considered in the draft study that would meet the agency’s need to address resource and management issues, while leaving out the elements most objectionable to local residents.
“You will be listened to,” he said. “Will it it make everyone happy? Probably not.”
He also expressed concern about long-term funding for recreation on the White River National Forest,
“We’re suffering from neglect,” he said. “We may get to a point where we just have to shut things down.”
Filed under: forests, public lands, recreation, Summit County Colorado, US Forest Service Tagged: | camping, Dillon Ranger District, Green Mountain Reservoir, recreation, Summit County Colorado, Summit County News, U.S. Forest Service