A Bear (Lake) of a project

U.S. Forest Service crews work to improve campsites

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— Jon Anarella and Scott Livingstone stood near Bear Lake underneath a fir tree that stood about 30 feet tall.

They eyed the trunk from top to bottom.

A layer of wood chips covered the ground and the smell of fresh, wet timber lingered in the air, complements of a 15-minute rain shower that just hit.

The tree was on the edge of a road's width path, recently carved through a stand of thick spruce, fir and pine trees. The tree was marked with an orange dot, which meant it was on the list to be cut down and the two men, U.S. Forest Service employees, were preparing to bring it to the ground.

"They are checking the slant of the tree," whispered Yampa District Ranger Howard Sargent, while standing at a safe distance away.

The moment of slant determination was brief and Livingstone was soon wielding a chain saw on the side the tree was leaning. Sargent narrated Livingstone's actions, describing how the man would make three slices into the tree to complete two cuts: the face cut and the back cut.

The face cut is shaped like a "V," Sargent said.

Livingstone then made a flat slice into the trunk, parallel to the ground just about foot up. Then he sawed into the trunk at an angle above the first slice. When finished, out popped a pie-like slice of tree, completing the face cut.

The young man, looking in his mid- to late-20s, then went to the opposite side of the face cut and sliced into the trunk again.

Now all that was holding the tree vertical, Sargent said, was a thin strand of wood down the middle of trunk, which is called "holding wood," Sargent said.

Anarella pounded in a metal wedge into the back cut, gave the tree a push and down it went with a creak and a crash.

"Now we've got to buck it for an hour," Livingstone said, standing above the fallen tree, referring to the process of taking the limbs off.

"Yea, that was the fun the part," Anarella replied.

Anarella is the leader of a crew that, with the help of the Craig Hot Shots firefighters and district firefighters getting trained on chain saws, carved about a quarter-mile loop through the stand of trees in about eight working days. At one point, the fallen timber and trimmed limbs were knee deep in the path, Anarella said until a chipper was brought in to break it all down.

The work is part of $800,000 project to double the size of the Bear Lake Campground, just east of the Flat Tops Wilderness and north of Flat Top Mountain.

"In the fall, we'll punch in the redesign," Anarella said.

He explained that on the existing loop, his crew would reroute the road and create 23 new campsites, vacating most of the ones in use today.

"We were going to have to close the campgrounds for two summers but I really didn't want to do that," Sargent said.

Therefore, crews came in during the spring to clear the added loop, while the old spot stayed open. In the fall, the campground will close until the summer of 2003 to complete the project, when Bear Lake will have 43 campsites.

The campground project is actually topping off refurbishing work that started in the early '90s in the Bear River corridor, which supports Yamcolo Reservoir, Bear Lake and Stillwater Reservoir west of Yampa.

"This area was really starting to get overrun," Sargent said.

Through time, the use there has increased and the need for facility upgrades and additions such as restrooms has increased too.

"We hit capacity here all the time," Anarella said.

But the users of the area also have changed since the campgrounds and fishing spots were last worked on, about 30 years ago, he said. People now visit driving giant recreational and camping vehicles.

"It's modernization," Anarella said of the work being done.

Also, the work helps control the impact the people have to the area. One of the first projects Forest Service crews finished was better identifying dispersed campground sites throughout the area. Before, explained Sargent, people were just pulling off the road and camping if they didn't want to pay the $10 fee for the sites with facilities. Now, specific camping sites are marked throughout the valley and have fire pits, so campers will make an impact on specific areas instead of every open space close to the road.

The bottom line is maintaining the quality of the area and providing the opportunity for a good outdoor experience, Sargent said.

"To me, this is kind of a unique area," he said. "From these campgrounds there is good fishing and trails that lead right into the wilderness."

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