Forest Service seeks public feedback for future facilities | SteamboatToday.com

Forest Service seeks public feedback for future facilities

Dave Shively

— Federal land management agencies can only do so much.

Tight budgets mean that the U.S. Forest Service must prioritize when it comes to focusing its resources.

But where and when? What facilities do the people living next to the National Forest want and need?

Kent Foster, recreation program manager for the Forest Service’s Hahn’s Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District, is looking for answers.

Under the agency’s Recreation Site Facility Master Plan, Foster not only has to look at the local district’s 16 developed recreation sites from a business perspective of which should continue to receive maintenance funding – he also has to weigh public needs.

“We have to rank them, determining the cost of us improving them to today’s standards versus the higher public expectation for quality facilities,” Foster said. “It’s a question of us wanting a large quantity of sites, or if we want high-quality sites.”

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For the past two summers, district officials have closed a pair of campgrounds: the Walton Creek Campground on Rabbit Ears Pass and the Sawmill Creek Campground north of Craig.

Now, Foster is eyeing the sticky subject of the Ferndale Picnic Area. Built in the late ’60s, this two-acre site just off U.S. Highway 40 consists of a small gravel loop around six picnic areas and an outhouse. As other roadside highway amenities have increased through the years, Ferndale’s day use has all but disappeared. The names carved into the Aspens are evidence of picnics past, but with the site closed for the past two summers, grasses have grown over the dilapidated concrete tables.

Ferndale is just eight miles east of the last traffic light in Steamboat. The post from the old sign is all that marks the entrance north off U.S. 40, just past the Routt National Forest boundary. The multiple unmarked trails departing from the area – trails that quickly connect to the “Old Highway” route for a sweeping view down to Lake Catamount or link to other trails up to the Rabbit Ears Pass West Summit – prove that hikers, mountain bikers and hunters still definitely use the site to access the forest.

Add to that the contingent of fern fiddlehead harvesters who descend on the area in the late spring, the only time the area’s gate is now open.

Wendy Holden, the district’s visitor information supervisor, estimates that about 350 fern harvesters get permits to pick in the Routt National Forest every year.

According to Foster, there are a lot of options on the table, from refurbishing Ferndale and opening it again to day-use, to making it a dispersed group camping site, or to just reclaiming and gutting the whole thing and turning it into a marked trailhead.

The issue, Foster knows, is the unspoken Steamboat residents who would recoil at the thought of this overlooked, unmarked “local’s spot” so close to town turning into a destination for Steamboat’s legions of summer visitors.

These residents, as well as potential groups who could partner with the Forest Service in managing the site, have their chance to be involved in that decision.

Comments including name and contact information can be e-mailed to Foster at kfoster@fs.fed.us or dropped by the district office at 925 Weiss Drive.

The final foliage

Saturday marked the opening of the first big game rifle season (limited entry, elk only), but Colorado Division of Wildlife district wildlife manager Jim Haskins doesn’t think that should be a cause for alarm for intrepid hikers and bikers hoping to get one of their final immersions in the changing colors of the fall season.

“We very rarely have accidents that involve nonhunters,” Haskins said. “Don’t hide and not go out because hunting season is going – you’re more likely to get hit by a car or lightning than be involved in an accident.”

With that said, Haskins reminded those heading into the woods to take precautions such as wearing brightly colored clothing, preferably blaze orange.

“This first season is really our busiest up here because everybody wants a first crack at the elk, so our hunter numbers on public land are higher than any other,” Haskins said, noting that hunter pressure pushes game down onto private pockets of land as the seasons progress.

Haskins also said he expects the district office to sell out of its last available leftover public land elk tags.

The first season runs through Wednesday and the elk and deer second rifle season opens Saturday. Visit http://wildlife.c… for license fees and full schedule details.