Resort, Forest Service should strive for environmental improvements, not just in the Summit House facility, but in the overall development footprint of the project area; full disclosure needed for the planned Bergman Bowl egress trail
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — At first glance, plans to revamp the summit of Keystone’s Dercum Mountain and make other improvements to existing terrain and facilities appears to be a laudable step away from the normal ski resort expansion race, marked most recently by Breckenridge’s quest to add lift-served terrain on Peak 6.
Keystone’s proposal is to work within the resort’s existing development footprint, which already sprawls three mountains deep from the Highway 6 base area into the surrounding national forest. Improvements to existing trails, the addition of a few new mountain bike trails and enhanced visitor facilities at the summit of Dercum Mountain all make sense for one of the state’s busiest ski areas. Replacing the aging mountain-top lodge, cozy as it may be, with a new energy efficient structure is also a good move, both from a business and environmental standpoint.
But there are a couple of glaring questions that come to mind immediately. As part of its review, the Forest Service should look at how the new facility will affect the operation of the Outpost, built at great expense and with a lot of environmental fanfare. I’m not sure how, but Keystone earned green accolades for construction of that remote lodge, which could become a white elephant for the resort and the Forest Service.
The proposal also includes building a substantial egress trail from one of the resort’s bowls, currently served by snowcats. The Forest Service must explore and disclose whether construction of this trail is a prelude to eventually adding lift-served skiing in this terrain, as contemplated by a resort master plan that was adopted without any formal public review or environmental analysis.
If there is any chance that the ski area wants to add lifts to this area in the foreseeable future, then the Forest Service should evaluate the cumulative impacts of the egress trail and the lift now, and not piecemeal the approval as has happened so often before.
Finally, the Forest Service should encourage the resort to view the improvements plan as an opportunity for environmental restoration in an area that has been severely impacted by industrial-scale recreation. On a busy winter day, the summit of Dercum Mountain is as busy as an urban transit station, with numerous lifts unloading, heavy grooming equipment operating and food preparation and sanitary services for tens of thousands of people.
Several of the streams that drain from the heavily impacted areas have violated federal water quality standards at least on and off for several years, with elevated levels of metals and sediments.
The area has been hammered hard. Over the years, I’ve watched oil drip and pool from a dismantled lift tower (the Forest Service took prompt action to clean it up when notified), and I’ve seen hundreds of Tampon caps littering the ground near the open sewage lagoon (and have pictures to prove it). Above the sewage facility and near the old explosives shack, there have been semi-permanent summer encampments, with old cooking gear left out to rust in the rain.
The resort’s plan to enhance recreation should encompass a far-reaching environmental restoration of the area, including revegetation and stream restoration, and the Forest Service should follow through to make sure that the area is in better shape after the project than it is now, with all streams meeting water quality standards.
That would be a ski area project that all of Summit County could be proud of.