Tree removal ahead of schedule at Steamboat Lake

Estimate of available holiday campsites could double to 90

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— Removal of dead lodgepole pines from campgrounds at Steamboat Lake State Park is proceeding faster than first hoped, and as many as 90 campsites could be available for Memorial Day weekend.

Park Manager Julie Arington confirmed Wednesday that logging crews are finishing up with the Wheeler Loop in the Dutch Hill Campground and could move on to the Arnica Loop and 50 more campsites in the Sunrise Vista Campground early next week. As recently as Feb. 4, she cautiously predicted 40 campsites in Dutch Hill were all campers could hope for by the holiday weekend.

"We are almost done with the Wheeler Loop," Arington said. "They're doing brush cutting and burning and hauling logs away."

The pines at Steamboat Lake have been under assault by the same mountain pine beetles that have decimated forests throughout the Rocky Mountain West. State park officials became aware last fall that the trees in the Steamboat Lake campgrounds were posing a safety hazard sooner than anticipated. More than 900 trees in Dutch Hill have been marked for removal.

Steamboat Lake State Park is among the most popular in the state, with 418,000 annual visitors.

Officially, state park officials are cautioning on their Web page that campers cannot expect any availability until July 1. But Arington said she expects that advisory to be changed soon.

Bonnie Bunker, who runs the private Steamboat Lake Marina concession at the park with her husband, Karl, said their services are not affected by the tree removal operation, and they will begin summer services May 15.

"The park focused dead tree mitigation on the area of our 10 guest cabins before anything else, and they have been occupied by guests all winter," Bunker said.

Steamboat Lake State Park still is not accepting reservations by phone or Internet. Arington said her office fields calls about the availability of reservations on a daily basis, and she hopes the reservation system will be available in about a month.

Ironically, campers' best hopes for expanded camping late this spring depends upon continued cold weather and light snow accumulation.

Arington said tree removal got off to a faster start than expected after the detailed government contract with Cox Brothers Logging, of Craig, went faster than usual. But the fact winter snowstorms tapered off in March really helped clear the Wheeler Loop ahead of schedule.

In order for the Arnica Loop to proceed at the same pace, the ground needs to remain frozen in April, Arington said.

Dead tree removal also is under way at the campsites at nearby Pearl Lake, a part of the Steamboat Lake State Park system, Arington said. Some of the cleared timber is being sent to a stove pellet plant in Walden, and the balance is being stored at the Cox Brothers Sawmill yard in Craig.

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