U.S. Forest Service approves massive expansion of summer recreational facilities at Breckenridge ski area

Zip lines, canopy tours and other attractions planned

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A slice of the Tenmile Range that already feels the full brunt of industrial level recreation will see even more summer traffic after the U. S. Forest Service approved a huge expansion of new summer activities and facilities.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The U.S. Forest Service is on track to approve a huge expansion of summer activities at Breckenridge Ski Area that will accommodate up to 150,000 additional visitors during the summer season.

The agency this week released a final environmental study for the new installations and programs, along with a draft decision letter from White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams, who said he thinks the new facilities — including zip lines, canopy tours and challenge courses — will enhance public appreciation of national forest lands and the outdoors.

The proposal was controversial in Breckenridge, as some residents expressed concerns about drawing more visitors to the already crowded town. Other locals support the plan as a way of increasing tourism revenues and drumming up more business for local restaurants and shops.

Specifically, the Forest Service approved:

  • Educational and Interpretive Programs
  • Sawmill and Peak 7 Zip Lines
  • Sawmill and Ore Bucket Canopy Tours
  • Challenge Courses at Peak 8
  • Observation Tower (Alternative 3 location)
  • Hiking Trails
  • Mountain Bike Trails and Skills Course
  • Peaks Trail Connection
  • Upper Four O’Clock Road Realignment
  • Vista Haus and Peak 7 Hut Site Improvements
  • Climbing Wall

The agency cut the summer operation of high-elevation chairlifts from the proposal to avoid visual impacts and damage to fragile alpine tundra, according to Fitzwilliams.

The Forest Service says the goal of this project is to engage a wide audience of summer visitors – a departure from typical ski area projects that focus on improving the recreation experience for the winter visitor.

This project is one of a few across the nation prompting the Forest Service to rethink how ski areas can provide new activities and memorable experiences to users – many of whom are new guests or those that do not ski at resorts in the winter season.

“This suite of new activities, individually and collectively, provides an opportunity for families and guests to connect with the natural world and appreciate nature through play. The entire spectrum of activities provides an environment that will better encourage guests to further discover their national forests or visit them for the first time.”

In his Draft decision, Fitzwilliams removed several items from the original proposal submitted by the resort.

“Based on public input and resource considerations, I am not authorizing jeep tours and scenic chairlift rides (Chair 6 and Imperial Express) in the alpine environment and have reduced the amount of mountain bike trails. The remaining approved projects allow for a good mix of activities while minimizing resource in sensitive areas,” he said.

“The resorts provide us with a unique opportunity to connect so many people to the National Forests in a confined, developed area,”  said Roger Poirier, mountain sports program manager for the WRNF and team leader for the project.

The agency has long claimed that more developed recreation within the ski area footprint, where roads, trails and other infrastructure exist, is preferable to expanding the recreation envelope into undeveloped areas.

The project includes a number of interpretive and educational activities and exhibits,” said Fitzwilliams.

“The Forest will fully engage the resort and other local organizations to develop a comprehensive, world-class interpretive program providing fun learning opportunities to inspire guests and engage them with the natural world. I believe providing educational and interpretive opportunities in partnership with the resort will play a big part in inspiring guests to further explore the National Forests and have a deeper understanding of nature,” said Fitzwilliams.

Objections Process

The release of this draft decision initiates the 45-day objections period. Individuals who submitted timely and specific written comments during the scoping period (February 10, 2014 through March 12, 2014) or Draft Environmental Impact Statement comment period (January 16, 2015 through March 2, 2015) will have eligibility to file an objection to the Draft Record Of Decision under 36 CFR §218.8.

 

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