Blue paint marks the lodgepole pine trees that Steamboat Lake and Pearl Lake state parks manager Julie Arington will see removed when logging operations begin to clear the beetle-killed trees, which limit campground availability.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Blue paint marks the lodgepole pine trees that Steamboat Lake and Pearl Lake state parks manager Julie Arington will see removed when logging operations begin to clear the beetle-killed trees, which limit campground availability.

Beetle epidemic to restrict camping

Pearl Lake campgrounds not expected to open this summer

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At a glance

Beetle kill mitigation priorities

Steamboat Lake and Pearl Lake state parks

- Wheeler Loop, Dutch Hill Campground, Steamboat Lake State Park

- Arnica Loop, Sunrise Vista Campground, Steamboat Lake State Park

- Yarrow, Lupine, Larkspur, Rosecrown and Harebell loops, Sunrise Vista Campground, Steamboat Lake State Park

- Bridge Island Campground, Steamboat Lake State Park

- Upper and Lower loops, Pearl Lake State Park

The Dutch Hill Campground at Steamboat Lake State Park once was densely packed with lodgepole pine. But blue marks on bark now dominate the landscape, identifying the beetle-killed trees awaiting removal.

The mountain pine beetle epidemic sweeping Colorado forests has taken a heavy toll on Steamboat Lake and Pearl Lake state parks, whose campgrounds were closed in October after being deemed unsafe after trees starting falling much earlier than expected, said Julie Arington, park manager for both parks.

The epidemic will have a drastic impact on camping availability in the summer.

Crews will begin cutting down beetle-killed and beetle-infected trees in Steamboat Lake State Park later this month, but because of the sheer number that must go, the park will have only limited camping availability this summer. Pearl Lake State Park's campgrounds are not expected to open at all, though day use of the parks' lakes, trails and open space should not be affected, Arington said.

The goal is to have the 40 campsites in Dutch Hill Campground's Wheeler Loop ready for Steamboat Lake State Park's seasonal opening, which usually occurs by Memorial Day, Arington said.

Routt County in general has been hard-hit by the mountain pine beetle, and Steamboat Lake and Pearl Lake are among the worst-hit state parks, she said.

"I just don't think anybody thought it would get like this," Arington said. "It seemed like all of the sudden, everything was gone."

No one has been hurt from falling trees at either park, but a tree that fell in Steamboat Lake's Dutch Hill Campground late last summer caused damage to a parked camper, and a yurt at Pearl Lake State Park currently is undergoing repairs after a beetle-killed tree fell on it, Arington said.

About 900 trees have been identified for removal in Dutch Hill alone, Arington said.

Efforts in the Dutch Hill and Sunrise Vista campgrounds will be completed before mitigation efforts move to Bridge Island.

Neither Steamboat Lake nor Pearl Lake currently is accepting campsite reservations, and Steamboat Lake's Web site, erring on the conservative side, says camping is not expected to be available until July, Arington said.

"We get about 10 calls a day about that," Arington said.

The two parks had a combined visitation of nearly 418,000 in the most recent fiscal year.

In the same time period, Stagecoach State Park greeted about 132,000 visitors.

The beetle kill mitigation projects in at Steamboat Lake and Pearl Lake state parks will be paid for with funds from a variety of sources, including federal grants and Great Outdoors Colorado, known as GOCO. Though the Colorado State Parks budget allows for some annual hazard tree removal and preventative spraying, outside funds were necessary to get all the infected trees removed, Arington said.

In the campgrounds, every mature tree that hasn't been sprayed was hit, and the beetles took trees as small as four inches in diameter, Arington said. The park is using preemptive spraying to try to maintain the roughly 500 mature lodgepoles that remain near the campgrounds, but not even all of those trees have survived thus far.

"The parks are going to look very different, but it's going to be safe," Arington said.

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