Steamboat Springs The time to mourn the arrival of the mountain pine beetle has come and gone. The time to curse the toll it's taking on Colorado's lodgepole pine forests has come and gone. The time to bemoan the drastic changes to scenery across northern Colorado has come and gone.
Now is the time to deal with it, secure the safety of the public and make the best of the situation, said Kent Foster, recreation program manager for the U.S. Forest Service's Hahn's Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District. Parks across the state will do just that this summer as they close popular campgrounds to remove dead and dying trees.
"The beetle epidemic has a lot of people scratching their heads. It is a lot more widespread and faster than the scientists have seen before," Foster said. "We are removing trees in these areas because we need to protect the public."
The closings will strike close to home for Routt Country residents. The Hahn's Peak Lake campground will be closed for the entire summer, because 1,600 trees are slated for removal. Granite campground also will be closed the entire season, and only one loop in the Seedhouse Group Campgrounds will be open, and only during July, because more than 1,000 trees are slated to be cut down.
The Hinman, Rabbit Ears, Dumont and Meadows campgrounds also will all open later than usual to allow trees to be removed.
"Now, we're trying to line up timber sales contractors to come in and take them out," Foster said. "We want to make the disruptions as minimal as possible, but still provide for safety."
The closings aren't restricted to the Steamboat Springs area. Timber Creek campground, one of the five main drive-in campgrounds that serve Rocky Mountain National Park, and the one only one on the 265,770-acre park's west side, will be closed through the early part of the season.
The beetle is again to blame.
Operators hope to have Timber Creek back open to the public for the busy month of July, but like so much of the state ravaged by the mountain pine beetle, things won't quite be the same.
Timber Creek is as its name suggests. It's located in the thick lodgepole pine forest of the park's west side. The first-come, first-served, 98-site campground will lose most of its signature attractions as park officials clear dead trees to prevent injuries from falling timber.
"It will have a huge impact. Lodgepole pines are mainly what make up the forest in Rocky Mountain National Park," said Kyle Patterson, a spokesperson for the park. "It will be very difficult to deal with aesthetically and painful to see, but the visitors seem to understand it's a national problem and a native thing that is happening."
More than cutting trees
None of the plans are as simple as walking into the campground with a chainsaw. Rather, both Patterson and Foster said they expect improvements to be made and alternatives to the pines explored.
The Hahn's Peak campground was due for a refurbishment anyway, Foster said. The area's camping sites will be updated, and water that has been turned off for years will be reconnected. The loops also will be reconfigured to better handle today's RVs and travel trailers.
New vegetation will be planted and the epidemic further studied, Patterson said, adding that she didn't expect the closing to handicap the park's summer visitation numbers.
"We plan to replant a variety of native vegetation like ground cover, other native vegetation," Patterson said. "Once we clear out the lodgepole pines, we will assess where beetles are killing other types of trees. We will not be putting back any large trees at this point until beetles have moved through the area.
"We did a lot of hazard tree removal last year, and the numbers didn't go down, so we don't expect them to this year either," he continued. "Because the beetle epidemic is not just from Colorado, visitors are more used to it. They're realizing if they travel anywhere in the West they'll see some kind of impact."