Dolores and Montezuma counties are considering partnering with the San Juan National Forest to maintain Ferris and Cabin campgrounds on the Lower Dolores River.
The campgrounds, upriver from Bradfield Bridge, have had reduced maintenance because of U.S. National Forest Service budget cuts and limited use. Ferris is no longer a fee campground, but is still open for dispersed camping. A bathroom was recently removed.
The Cabin Campground site is gated and closed to vehicles, and has been for more than five years. The overgrown site includes a forgotten quarter-mile concrete path along the river suitable for wheelchairs and walkers. There is also a closed RV dump site near the site along Forest Road 504.
Both campgrounds are in Montezuma County but are more accessible to Dolores County residents. The counties and the Forest Service are considering an agreement for co-management of the federally owned facilities.
Ferris would remain open for dispersed camping and day use, and the proposal would reopen the Cabin site for day use only. Neither site would have permanent bathrooms, trash service or potable water for now.
Dolores County Commissioner Julie Kibel said her constituents would like to see both recreation sites remain open. There is particular demand for Cabin site to reopen because of its paved walkway, with benches and wheelchair-accessible fishing access.
“Our community members who rely on wheelchairs or need a level surface to walk, would like to utilize that sidewalk again to enjoy the canyon and the river,” she said. “It was a popular destination for our community.”
Local schools also rely on Ferris Campground for staging field trips into the canyon and would take advantage of the Cabin site as well, Kibel said.
“The area is highly used by our residents for hunting, fishing and sightseeing, so I would like to move forward on an agreement to keep those sites open,” she said. “In an era of deceasing budgets, the federal government and counties need these types of collaborative relationships.”
She envisions Dolores County bringing in portable toilets during summer, cleaning and mowing, and maintaining grills and picnic tables. Community service groups such as Southwest Conservation Corps or the Boy Scouts could be contacted to help with the maintenance needs. County and Forest Service officials recently cleared overgrown portions of the sidewalk.
San Juan Forest recreation planner Tom Rice said during a budget analysis of recreation sites last year that the Ferris fee campground was identified as a money loser because of limited use. To cut maintenance costs, it is no longer an organized fee campground, and the composting bathroom was removed.
“We’ve had to prioritize which campgrounds to maintain based on our available recreation budget,” Rice said, which has been reduced over the years. “Co-managing these sites with the counties is seen as a good opportunity.”
Campground rings and picnic tables at both sites will remain, but some will be removed, he said. It is possible that the RV dump station could be reopened, Rice said, but the counties would have to finance its operation because the Forest Service does not have the funds to do so.
Dolores County is taking the lead on re-establishing the recreation sites, officials said, even though they are within Montezuma County.
James Dietrich, Montezuma County federal lands planner, said the county is on board with working on a management agreement with the Forest Service and Dolores County.
“We want to participate, and pending a successful agreement I think each county’s role will be worked out by next season,” he said.