Campers and hikers may soon have the opportunity to live like rangers if the Forest Service approves public use of five small guard stations in the Routt National Forest backcountry.
The Forest Service wants to rent the cabins nightly to the public to generate revenue it can use to preserve the historic facilities, such as Summit Creek Guard Station on Routt County Road 129 north of Columbine, which was constructed in 1905. It is seeking public input on the proposal and will take public comments through May 21.
The stations are used by forest rangers from time to time, except for Summit Creek, which usually remains vacant. One of the better-equipped cabins, the Summit Creek station, has electricity, gas and indoor plumbing, but the Forest Service needs money to maintain those amenities and install a new water pump.
"Renting these stations out would be a good way for us to raise money to keep these maintained," said Ray George, recreation program manager of the Hahn's Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District. "We've seen similar projects work in the Laramie and Saratoga districts of Wyoming and all over the U.S. It seems it's better to have people stay in a building (to keep it maintained), otherwise they sit there and go to pieces."
The rentals would be done under the Recreation Fee Dem-onstration program, which provides that money from renting will be reinvested in the facilities. The Forest Service hopes rent revenue alone would provide enough money to maintain, enhance and preserve the guard stations, but George said it is still possible that the Forest Service would have to seek additional funding.
If the proposal is approved, the Summit Creek cabin could begin being rented this fall. The other cabins need repairs that could take up to a year before they are in suitable condition to rent, George said.
"This can provide people with a different alternative from going to a campground, while offering some of the amenities of home," George said.
The Forest Service is seeking public input on the proposal to determine whether there is interest in nightly rentals, as well as any concerns, impacts or problems people might have. The Forest Service usually performs such environmental analyses on new projects to make sure it is aware of any conflicts, George said.
Along with the Summit Creek station, the Forest Service is considering nightly rentals at four other guard stations. The stations were strategically built to be a day's ride from each other, so rangers patrolling the National Forest could ride all day and still have a place to sleep at night.
The other stations being considered for nightly rentals are:
n The Seedhouse Guard Station on Seedhouse Road just north of Clark. The station is called the Seedhouse because it has been used for storage of seeds and other supplies since it was built in the 1930s.
The cabin is used by rangers and can hold up to four people. It has gas but no electricity, and snow must be melted for drinking water. However, the Forest Service plans to install a solar-powered well, said Ed Patalik, recreation planner for the Hahn's Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District.
n The California Park Guard Station, about 25 miles north of Hayden in a big open area in the forest. Forest rangers use it quite a bit in summer, George said. The cabin has no electricity or plumbing, but does have a wood-burning stove and a gas heater.
n The Lost Park Station, north of Craig on Black Mountain Road.
n The Mad Creek Station south of Clark on Forest Road 128.
Both the Lost Park and Mad Creek stations are in need of immediate repair, and costs could be expensive, George said.
The Forest Service plans to offer the stations for nightly rental, but has not yet determined a price. George said he plans on looking at the costs of renting similar facilities.
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