Forest Service starts public scoping; open house set for Nov. 3
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — The public will have a chance to weigh in on a proposed new backcountry hut near Breckenridge during the next few weeks, as the Forest Service opens a scoping period on the proposal.
A public open house will be held on November 3, 2011 from 5-7 p.m. at the Stephen C. West Ice Arena, 186 Boreas Pass Road, Breckenridge, Colorado. Representatives from the WRNF and SHA will be present to answer questions and provide additional information on this project. Check out the scoping notice posted in a Scribd.com window at the end of this story for more details, including how to comment.
Based on public input and other data compiled by resource experts, the Forest Service will compile a draft environmental assessment. that document will also be open to public comment before White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams makes a decision on the hut proposal, possibly sometime next year.
The Weber Gulch hut would provide good opportunities for backcountry skiing and riding on forested north-facing slopes that are some distance from existing day-use areas.
In the scoping notice, the Forest Service also explained that the hut would be accessible via a non-motorized route that doesn’t conflict with private land. The site offers a remote feel and there is a flat building site that’s not impaired by wetlands.
Finally, the site offers the chance to connect with the Section House, near Boreas Pass, fulfilling an important component of the Summit Huts Association 1989 master plan, which emphasizes hut-to-hut skiing.
Design details are far from finalized, but Summit Huts Assoication is planning on building a hut that would accommodate 14 to 18 people, plus hut-keepers quarters, perhaps between 2,000 and 2,700 square feet. Construction could cost between $1 and $2 million. Ultimately, the size of the hut will be at least partly a function of what it takes to make the hut fiscally viable.
The proposal outlines a new access trail designed to cross Town/County property from the top of Nightmare on Baldy to the Weber Gulch hut site. The trail is proposed to be open to non-motorized summer and winter use, and administrative ATV access during summer months for Summit Huts access only.
In an interview last spring, Summit Huts operations manager Mike Zobbe said the process of gathering biological data has already started, and that the hut group has had preliminary talks with winter sports rangers at the Dillon District, as well as with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged with looking at potential impacts to threatened and endangered species.
“We spent this winter working through various scenarios of how to best access the hut,” Zobbe said, explaining that one the main goals was to avoid intact habitat blocks. Essentially, access will be via Sally Barber Road and the Nightmare on Baldy trail, with about 1.5 miles of new trail construction, partially across open space lands and partially on national forest lands. The total distance from the trailhead to the hut would be about 3.5 miles.
The huts group says demand for backcountry skiing is growing and existing huts operate near capacity during peak winter periods.
The proposed Weber Gulch Backcountry Hut site is located at an approximate elevation of 11,500 feet on the northern aspect of Baldy Mountain, east of Breckenridge in an area of the White River forest zoned for nonmotorized backcountry use.
According to the scoping notice, Weber Gulch provides the potential for excellent skiing opportunities in northern-aspect trees on the north side of Baldy Mountain. There are several alpine bowls to the southwest of the site that provide skiing opportunities with relatively minimal avalanche concerns. Avalanche terrain dominates slopes to the southeast of the proposed hut site, but can be easily recognized and avoided by anyone with basic backcountry awareness.
If the hut wins approval, focus will focus more on the design — and the funding, but the general approach is to go as green as possible, using renewable energy sources and energy efficient construction techniques and materials, Zobbe said.
Filed under: Colorado, recreation, skiing and riding, Summit County Colorado, Summit County news Tagged: | backcountry skiing, Breckenridge Colorado, Colorado backcountry huts, new backcountry hut Summit County, Summit Huts Association, United States Forest Service, White River National Forest