A new San Juan National Forest recreation site analysis proposes some closures and improvements for the Dolores Ranger District.
The forest service is looking for operators at the Aspen Guard station and Glade Guard Station. The cabins are closed, and an artist-in-residence program was discontinued because of its high maintenance needs.
“We’re looking for partners and concessionaire to roll it into a camping rental program,” said Dolores forest ranger Derek Padilla. “The cabins were built in the 1930s and need to be brought up to modern codes.”
The rest room at Sage Hen at McPhee Reservoir is likely to be demolished unless local partners are willing to help maintain the facility, which has suffered from a lot of vandalism. Also the toilet at the West Fork trailhead is proposed for removal. The bathrooms at Bear Creek and Gold Run trailheads will remain but are proposed for less frequent servicing.
Dolores County is advocating for a toilet to be put at the Navajo Lake trailhead due to heavy recreation use there.
Ferris Campground, on the Lower Dolores River, is proposed for closure, but won’t be demolished. Dolores County is working with the forest to find a way to keep it open through volunteer efforts.
The Big Al trail near Mancos is a barrier free for wheel-chair use, and is expected to continue to see regular maintenance.
At the West Fork campground, the plan is to replace 12 tables and fire rings. Loops at the House Creek campground would be closed unless occupancy rates increase.
Other ranger districts have changes as well.
The Lower Hermosa Trailhead is proposed to go from dispersed camping to a fee area with a campground host.
Bathrooms at Little Molas camping area, Middle Fork Trailhead, Coal Bank Pass, Old Lime Creek Road, an the upper Hermosa Trailhead are targeted for removal.
Chimney Rock National monument is the bright spot. The forest reports it may receive $2.1 million from the Washington office in 2016 for a capital improvements.
The San Juan National Forest, with 1.8 million acres covering 10 Colorado counties, maintains 129 recreational sites, including trailheads, rest rooms and interpretative signs.
But over the years, Congress, attempting to trim the federal budget, has allocated less money to the U.S. Forest Service, which means local agencies must look for ways to cut operational costs. The rising cost of fighting wildfires also is a major consumer of the Forest Service’s budget, thereby limiting local resources.
Recently, the San Juan National Forest reduced its full-time workforce from 18 to 11 employees, and cut the visitor information program by 30 percent. For the past two years, the Forest Service has considered new fees, campsite closures and the decommissioning of rest rooms.
The proposed changes will save the Forest Service 30 percent in operational costs (cleaning, salaries), 17 percent in maintenance costs (backlog of work projects) and 4 percent in annual maintenance costs (painting, repairs). For example, the Forest Service had accumulated an estimated $3.9 million in deferred maintenance costs – repairs it couldn’t afford to make. But by closing some facilities in need of repair, the deferred maintenance costs are reduced to about $3.2 million.
The period for the last round of public feedback ends March 21. Afterward, Forest Service officials will tweak the plan as needed, and finalize it this spring.
Public feedback should be mailed to White at 15 Burnett Court, Durango, CO 81301, or sent via email to [email protected]
Durango Herald reporter Jonathan Romeo contributed to this report.