White River National Forest spending most of its maintenance budget on fixing pipes and tanks
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — The U.S. Forest Service is still struggling to restore water service to many local campgrounds, where old pipes and pumps are starting to wear out.
“The facilities are all 20 to 30 years old,” said Rich Doak, recreation manager for the White River National Forest. The agency is spending about $200,000 to try and get the water systems running again, the bulk of the White River’s maintenance budget, according to Doak.
“We’re not doing much of anything elsewhere on the forest,” Doak said, explaining that, other than the maintenance on the Dillon District, the agency is only replacing a failed septic tank and a few toilets at other campgrounds.
At Heaton Bay, which has 84 sites, only one of the loops has water available. Doak said the problem is a break in a water line buried deep along Dillon Dam Road. He said the Forest Service is currently working with Summit County and the town of Frisco to gain access to the line for repairs. Until workers actually dig down to the pipe, they won’t know exactly what happened.
At Lowry campground, the problem is also related to aging infrastructure.
“When we went back in to re-open Lowry … we found that the steel water tank was just rusted. It’s just wearing out,” Doak said. “It seemed like a simple thing at first, but it turned into something much bigger.” Get more information on national forest campgrounds in Summit County here.
The White River has a huge list of deferred maintenance projects, and the agency’s focus these days is primarily on hazards resulting from beetle-killed forests. That focus has drained resources away from other programs, including wilderness patrols.
Regional forester Rick Cables said a few months ago that the agency hopes to maintain funding for other programs at existing levels, but the agency’s budget is clearly stretched.
In the past few weeks, high stream flows also damaged a number of campgrounds and other facilities, including water diversions in Summit County operated by Golden and Colorado Springs. In nearby Eagle County, roads and campsites were flooded, and a key bridge enabling access to the Holy Cross Wilderness was destroyed.
Doak said he found a few thousand dollars in the budget to repair the Cross Creek bridge, but that the Forest Service doesn’t have the personnel to do the work. The task may be done by a volunteer crew under supervision of the Forest Service, he said.
The maintenance backlog on the White River forest also means the agency won’t be re-developing the Officer’s Gulch campground any time soon. Rangers at the Dillon District briefly explored the idea of re-opening the area, located between Frisco and Copper Mountain, just off I-70. But Doak said there’s just too much work to do on existing facilities.
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