If you are heading out into the forest roads and trails in Grand County this summer, be sure to check the Forest Service's website for closures. The US Forest Service will be removing roadside hazards along primary forest service roads.
Almost every popular national forest access in Grand County will be affected at some point during the spring and summer, from mountain biking access near the towns of Winter Park and Fraser to hiking and backpacking trailheads to anglers and campers who use the Arapaho National Recreation Area (ANRA).
About 15 campgrounds and hundreds of campsites may be affected by closures, which are intended to take place on a rotating basis so that only one area at a time is affected.
When it will happen
The time-frame for closures may begin as early as May and continue through November. All closures will be posted on the Forest Service website, but U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Reid Armstrong recommends that all Forest Service road and trail users call the recorded system at the district office in Granby before heading out into the forest.
Arapaho Bay Road in the National Recreation Area will be one of the areas that will have flaggers, allowing traffic through with 30-minute delays while logging companies clear hazardous trees from roads, rather than be closed altogether temporarily while the work takes place.
Closure dates have not been confirmed since the exact time each individual project will take place will be determined by the contractor, according to Armstrong.
West Range Reclamation LLC of Hotchkiss has been awarded the contract by the Forest Service to remove dead and dying trees located within 66 feet of the side of the roads. The number of closed areas will depend on the number of crews the contractor has available, said Craig Magwire, District Ranger.
"We need to get the work done, and minimize impact to visitors," he said.
West Range Reclamation receives about 90 percent of its business from Forest Service contracts but also performs fuel reduction work for private land owners, according to a company official.
Stewardship contracting is a means for federal agencies to contribute to the development of sustainable rural communities, restore and maintain healthy forest ecosystems, and provide a continuing source of local income and employment, according to the Forest Service's website. The trees that West Range Reclamation cuts or removes will be sold to lumber companies, or any of the three pellet companies in Colorado, said Pam Motley, spokesperson for West Range Reclamation LLC.
"The best use of the trees is to be made into pellets," she said, adding that the company only makes a profit on the job by selling the wood.
It's much like a contractor bidding on a job, and it's competitive, she said.
Local economic impact
West Range Reclamation will bring its own crews to the work sites. The foreman for this project lives in Laramie, Wyo., and the crew consists of loggers from southern Wyoming and Colorado, according to officials at the company.
"We have highly skilled trained operators," said Motley. "Some of the crews stay in trailers during the week on site and some travel home. Some will stay in hotel rooms or rent a house, it just depends."
In the Fraser Valley, Armstrong confirmed that trail closures will not affect the popular Epic Singletrack Series.
"There are five dates Laurie Mooney, from the Competition Center gave us, and they will not be interrupted," Armstrong said.
Keith Sanders, organizer of the local mountain bike group, Grand Mountain Bike Alliance (GMBA) wants to ensure there are specific guidelines and management of the areas that will be closed," he said.
"If there isn't specific management, it could have a devastating impact to the mountain bike system and summer tourism," he said.
Contracts have not yet been awarded to work on hazard tree mitigation in mountain biking, hiking, and ATV trail areas, though that could happen later in the summer.
Master Trail Plan
Maura McKnight, Executive Director of the Headwaters Trail Alliance (HTA), partners with the Forest Service and will them help communicate roads and trails closures on the HTA's website.
"There are hundreds of miles of trails and the BLM has trails, too," she said. "There is so much going on with BLM and Forest Service, I'm looking at this as a rebirth."
Removal of tree hazards and recreation plans are happening at the same time, and McKnight believes it is efficient to do all at once. While favorite trails are closed, she recommends trail users try different trails.
McKnight realizes mountain bikers want single track, and there just isn't enough in the system, she said.
HTA is in the process of creating a GIS mapping system and revising its Grand County Master Trail Plan. All the trail data from BLM and Forest Service, including data from Granby Ranch and Winter Park Resort trails, will be on a new GIS mapping system and will be free to the public.
"While the Forest Service is working roads and trails in a specific area, we will black it out on the GIS map," McKnight said.
Over 25 miles of trail in the Stillwater Pass - Kawuneeche Valley area were removed last summer. Local ATV retailer, Clint Bobo of Power World in Granby, understands that mitigation needs to be done for safety on the trails and is important for the forest.
"We just hope that it's done in a timely manner and trails aren't closed all summer," he said.
He didn't see a negative impact to ATV riders last year in the Stillwater area from hazardous tree mitigation, since there were other open trails.
This year more than 100 miles of high-use Forest Service roads will be cut. It is unknown, as of now, how many mountain biking and hiking trails will be affected, according to Magwire.
Closures will be rolling and temporary, according to the Forest Service. Crews will post closure signs in each area one week prior to the closures. Gates will be closed 24 hours before each project and crews will ensure that everyone is out of the area.
"It is not a perfect science," Armstrong said. "We will try and time this right. The best way for someone to know about roads is to call and listen to the recorded message."
Forest Service officials will be giving 30-minute informational sessions to these community meetings.
May 8: (6 p.m.) Granby Town Hall
May 14: (3 p.m.) Grand Lake Town Hall
May 15: (8 a.m.) Winter Park Town Hall
May 16: (6 p.m.) Fraser Town Hall
May 22: (10:45 a.m.) Grand County BOCC Meeting Room in Hot Sulphur
May 31: (5:30-7 p.m.) Trails night with WPFV Chamber at Crooked Creek in Fraser