The Denver Post printed an interview with Scott Fitzwilliams, the White River NF Supervisor last week. Has your local paper done a similar interview with a Forest Supervisor? If so, please link in the comments below. It might give us a different perspective on regional variation in “what’s happening on/challenging” the National Forests.
Here’s a link to the whole story. Needless to say, there’s a lot of ski resort stuff in the interview.
DP: There’s legislation in Congress that would enable the Forest Service to retain a portion of revenue-based fees collected from ski areas on public land. That could be huge for the White River. Fee retention is not a new idea. The 2004 Federal Lands Enhancement Act enabled forests like the White River to retain some recreation fees. How has that worked out for you guys?
S.F.: It’s made all the difference. In this forest we are able to retain about $1.3 million in fees from outfitter guides, Maroon Bells, Vail Pass, campgrounds that are nonconcessioned. Since we have been able to do that with a clear and concise and rather firm direction from Congress that those fees go toward supporting the program that generated the fees, we have been able to invest in things like trails, trailheads and maintenance of that, for example, our outfitters and guides use. Frankly that has been lifesaver for us. If you were to model this fee retention proposal similarly, we have a proven track record that we make good use of fees.
DP: Crowds in the White River forest have led to some innovative management strategies with plans for permitting at hotspots such as Vail Pass, Hanging Lake, Maroon Bells and Conundrum Hot Springs. What are some of the challenges in deploying those kinds of management plans?
S.F.: Resort-based recreation is major part of our niche, but really what shapes this forest is the interstate. It really does. We look to a future where that’s not going to stop no matter how they get here, whether it is light rail or extra lanes. What we are talking about it how we create a scenario where we can get people on the forest, enjoy the forest and maybe in more developed pods or in shorter-duration experiences they can get right off the Interstate 70 corridor. It’s a tough time to do it, but where we have to be in the future is really looking at this I-70 corridor, where we have maybe webs going off into the Roaring Fork Valley and places like that. The insatiable appetite for people to come here is not going to change.
It’s this combination of managing and providing the experience because that’s what we do and it’s super important and if we want support for our public lands. Putting up a sign that reads “Sorry. The park is closed,” or overly restricting people is not the way to get support for conservation of public lands or a sustainable environmental ethic. These types of decisions and planning processes I think we will see more of in the future. I’m not sure where the next one is. Some of the more popular fourteeners around the state are being talked about. Again it’s not us outright trying to limit access. It’s more about managing people space and time. These are hard processes. To do it right it takes time.