Public lands access advocates lose latest skirmish with Forest Service over recreation fees

Court says private concession companies don’t have to meet agency standards for recreation fees on public lands

Fee stations like this one at Pine Cove campground near Frisco, Colorado, could become even more common after a federal court exempted private companies from rules governing the application of recreation fees.

Fee stations like this one at Pine Cove campground near Frisco, Colorado, could become even more common after a federal court exempted private companies from rules governing the application of recreation fees.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — One of the legal efforts to try and check the recent proliferation of public land access fees was rebuffed by a federal court in Washington, D.C. last week. U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled that private companies running recreation facilities on federal lands don’t have to follow the same regulations as agency managed facilities.

In a worst-case scenario, the ruling could open the door to more widespread fees for trailhead parking and other types of access that have traditionally been free, said Kitty Benzar, president of the West Slope No-Fee Coalition, a group dedicated to eliminating fees charged for access and recreation on undeveloped public lands.

Continue reading

Summit County: Forest Service releases revised plan for 21-mile motorized trail system on Tenderfoot Mountain

Community task force finds common ground on contentious proposal

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The Forest Service says there’s room for 13 miles of new motorized trails on Tenderfoot Mountain, despite the fact that the agency can’t adequately maintain existing trails.

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A family outing near the Dillon Cemetery.

By Bob Berwyn

*Previous Summit Voice stories on the Tenderfoot motorized trail proposal are online here.

FRISCO — Critics are likely to say it’s like putting lipstick on a pig, but the U.S. Forest Service claims its latest version of a plan for a motorized trail on Tenderfoot Mountain, near Dillon, will result in a managed, finite system of sustainable trails to replacing the existing spaghetti network of illegal trails in the area.

The agency this week released a revised environmental study for the controversial trail system, which has been hotly debated for the past several years. According to the Forest Service, the new proposed action represents numerous compromises that were made to mitigate environmental and social concerns. Continue reading

Colorado: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges lynx mistakes in Breckenridge Ski Area’s Peak 6 expansion plan

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A transplanted Canada lynx watches a Colorado Division of Wildlife biologist. Photo courtesy Tanya Shenk/ Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Federal approval missed a key step in addressing requirements of Endangered Species Act

Click here to read all Summit Voice Peak 6 stories

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Federal biologists have acknowledged that they left out a key step in their approval of the proposed Peak 6 ski area expansion at Breckenridge, a project that would degrade a patch of lynx habitat in the Tenmile Range.

“We reviewed the … biological opinion, and we agree that our incidental take statement lacks a meaningful mechanism to reinitiate consultation if the project exceeds the anticipated incidental take,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Western Colorado Supervisor Patricia Gelatt wrote in a March 6 letter responding to a formal legal notice from Rocky Mountain Wild and the Blue River Group of the Sierra Club.

Gelatt said her agency plans to meet with the Forest Service and modify its biological opinion to address the deficiencies before the Notice of Intent expires on April 19, but she didn’t explain how agency biologists missed including the required regulatory mechanisms after discussing the expansion with the Forest Service for several years. Continue reading

Copper Mountain eyes new lifts, trail upgrades, wind turbines

Forest Service launches review with 30-day public comment period

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The U.S. Forest Service is starting to review a proposal to upgrade lifts and trails at Colorado’s Copper Mountain Resort.

*Corrected to clarify replacement of H Lift with a high-speed quad in 2011 as the most recent major lift upgrade.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Copper Mountain has proposed a slate of on-mountain lift and trail projects to improve the overall skier experience, enhance teaching opportunities and modernize the resort’s lift infrastructure.

Specifically, Copper wants to replace the Kokomo and Storm King lifts, add a new Union Meadows surface lift and a new terrain park surface lift that will also help enhance Woodward at Copper’s camp operations.

To improve skier and snowboarder flow across the mountain, the resort is also proposing improvements to the T-Rex Connector trail and the Spaulding Bowl runout trail, improved access to the Enchanted Forest area and grading around one of the towers of the Sierra Lift.

The proposal also includes adding two 24-foot vertical wind turbines on Union Peak to generate about  2,000 kilowatt hours per year. The proposed wind turbines will add renewable energy capacity generated by existing turbines installed in 2011. Click here to learn more about kilowatt hours.

This proposal only includes a few elements from an earlier on-mountain MDP, said Shelly Grail, winter sports ranger on the Dillon Ranger District. This plan focuses on improving skier and snowboarder flow on the mountain, and especially on improving service in the beginner area. Grail said. Continue reading

Colorado: Forest Service takes step toward protecting threatened greenback cutthroat trout in Bear Creek

A greenback cutthroat trout. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Agency settles lawsuit, agrees to ban motorized use on trails in Bear Creek watershed

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Colorado’s only population of native greenback cutthroat trout got a measure of protection this week, as the U.S. Forest Service agreed to ban motorized use on several trails near Bear Creek to protect the small stream near Colorado Springs from sediment.

Colorado biologists recently identified the Bear Creek population as the only remaining genetically pure strain of the greenback cutthroats. The settlement came a few months after the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit to protect the fish, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Native cutthroats in Colorado declined because of  pollution, overfishing and stocking of native and non-native species of trout.

“We’re so glad the Forest Service agreed to do the right thing and protect the only place in the world where greenback cutthroat trout still live in the wild,” said attorney Tim Ream. “This endangered fish has been hanging on by a thread for decades. The last thing it needs is motorcycles tearing through its only home and filling the creek with sediment.” Continue reading

Lawsuit challenges Forest Service’s SoCal Adventure Pass

Hikers claim adventure pass program is illegal under federal law and pursuant to an earlier court ruling

Public lands advocate continue their challenge to the Forest Service fee program with a lawsuit in Southern California. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Public land activists continue to try and chip away at various Forest Service fees, most recently with a lawsuit challenging the agency’s Southern California adventure pass.

In September, a similar lawsuit was filed challenging the agency’s practice of letting private companies that operate Forest Service campgrounds charge fees for adjacent day-use areas.

Four hikers have gone to court claiming the pass program is not authorized under federal laws that set strict limits on where and when fees can be charged for use of public lands. The adventure pass program requires forest visitors to display a pass on their vehicle when they park on the Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres, and San Bernardino National Forests, even when they do not use any developed facilities.

In the civil suit filed Oct. 24, Alasdair Coyne and Richard Fragosa, both of Ojai, John Karevoll of Running Springs, and Peter Wiechers of Kernville are asking the Los Angeles District Court for relief from having to pay a fee just to go for a hike in many popular parts of the four forests. Read the lawsuit here. Continue reading

Colorado: Bears getting hungry as they prepare for a long winter’s nap; wildlife managers urge caution

A hungry bear climbs into a Dumpster in search of food. Photo courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Forest Service orders special precautions in Vail area

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Numerous encounters between people and bears in the high country have prompted the White River National Forest to require campers to store all food and refuse in a bear-resistant container or inside a vehicle in a sealed container.

“Due to a lack of forage bears are on the hunt for alternative sources of food, campsites and picnic areas can appear, to a bear, an easy target,” said Eagle Holy Cross deputy district ranger Matt McCombs.

“We’ve had multiple encounters at our campgrounds where bears have been rewarded for their efforts … putting their safety and campers at risk.”  McCombs said, “With fall on its way and bears stocking up before hibernation, ensuring campers are being bear aware is the best way to keep everyone safe.” Continue reading

Colorado: Ready, set … paint!

Forest Service promotes the arts and the national Christmas tree with Aug. 18 event in Aspen

Colorado landscape painters have the chance to compete for cash prizes this weekend in Aspen.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — For Colorado landscape painters, there’s not much that’s more pleasant than a day spent in fresh air, rendering a stunning Rocky Mountain scene.

Add to that the potential to win a cash prize and to help publicize that this year’s national Christmas tree will come from Colorado, and you have the makings of a great event, with the White River National Forest sponsoring a day-long paint-out session at five scenic spots in the Aspen area.

The Aug. 18 art festival features a total of $4,000 in cash prizes and a chance to win a spot at the prestigious Denver Plein Air Arts Festival. Continue reading

Wildland firefighters to get insurance option

A firefighter on the line at the Arapaho Fire in Wyoming. Photo courtesy InciWeb.org and Jim Kibler.

President Obama will issue executive order enabling firefighters to qualify for federal program

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Seasonal firefighters will catch a health care break, as President Obama this week said he’ll issue an executive order that would enable firefighters to buy federal health insurance.

The issue was in the spotlight last month when Obama visited Colorado Springs and the scene of the deadly and destructive Waldo Canyon Fire. Continue reading

Colorado: Water woes at Summit County’s campgrounds

A family from Golden, Colorado camps at Heaton Bay, the only major Summit County campground where the water is working.

Leaks, busted pipes crimp camping fun as Forest Service and new concessionaire try to repair leaks and wells before July 4th

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — U.S. Forest Service recreation managers in Summit County are once again struggling with operational issues, as extensive damage to water systems left all the local campgrounds — totaling several hundred campsites — without water over Memorial Day weekend.

Additionally, a key Forest Service well that supplies water to campgrounds on the south side of Dillon Reservoir is in danger of running dry.

The water table the Lowry Well is down 50 feet, likely due to the drought. The same well went dry during the 2002 drought, but Forest Service officials hope it will deliver water through the bulk of the busy summer season.

“We now have water at Heaton Bay only,” said Howard Scott, longtime manager of developed recreation for the Dillon Ranger District. Continue reading

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