Nice American Outdoor Act Funding Flows into Chaffee County  – by Jan Wondra

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Pike-San Isabel National Forests & Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands Salida Ranger District has received $ 755,000 under the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) to improve and add infrastructure to local national forest areas.

Planned and ongoing projects are prioritized in the Chaffee County Outdoor Recreation Management Plan, approved in June.

At 13,961 feet, Mt. Ouray towers over O’Haver Lake in the San Isabel National Forest. (Photo by Joe Stone).

The law was passed in 2020 to fund major investments in recreational infrastructure, access to public land, and land and water conservation. The funding enables state administrators to take aggressive steps to address deferred maintenance and other infrastructure projects in national forests and grasslands by 2025, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

“This really puts the spotlight on delayed maintenance,” said Ben Lara, Recreation and Lands Staff for the Salida Ranger District. “It is at the right time because our infrastructure needed it before the Covid-19 pandemic and now needs it even more because of all the new visits we have received.”

Local projects planned for the next two years include campgrounds, a popular hiking trail, and new or replacement toilets in six locations.

Campsite Monarch Park
The campsite at Monarch Pass is popular with residents as it still remains a developed area, Lara said.

Image by Jenelle Hayes, courtesy Unsplash.

The agency is almost done fighting a spruce beetle infestation that killed many trees in and around the campsite, and will be working with the National Forest Foundation (NFF) to provide the facility with $ 300,000 in GAOA funding for new picnic tables and metal fire rings renovate more campsites and make some ADA accessible.

“Visitors are looking for group sites where they can camp with a few families,” said Lara. “You also have larger vehicles that need different parking and turning options.”

The agency plans to keep the “feeling” of the campsite with a good location separation, said Lara. With so many trees removed due to the infestation, there is an opportunity to expand and meet new and changing needs.

South Fooses Creek Trail
Approximately $ 210,000 of GAOA funds will be spent to divert the South Fooses Creek Trail as it currently encounters the continental divide over a damp meadow that has been identified as a habitat for boreal toads. Steep terrain and recreational use have resulted in deep canals causing unsafe conditions and erosion along the top of the trail, Lara said.

The agency is working with the Colorado Mountain Club to design and remodel two miles of higher, flatter terrain. The trail is popular with mountain bikers, some horse riders, and hikers, including visitors who use the Colorado Trail. Additional funding for the project includes $ 70,000 from a grant for Colorado Parks and Wildlife Non-Motorized Trails and $ 25,000 from the NFF.

The trail diversion will be released for use in 2023.

Toilet facilities
Pit toilets will be replaced this year at Denny Creek, Ptarmigan Lake, and Marshall Pass Shirley Site trailheads, as well as at North Fork Reservoir and Bootleg campsites.

The district will reopen Coledale Campground with a new toilet next year. The campsite has tent pads, metal fire rings and a garbage service and was closed due to flooding after the 2016 Hayden Pass Fire.

“There is a demand for facilities on Hayden Pass and as things stabilize after the wildfire we look forward to opening the infrastructure for that,” Lara said.

The Forest Service, one of five federal agencies receiving GAOA funding, will invest $ 285 million in maintenance projects this year. See a list of locations in the Rocky Mountain Region: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd892773.pdf

Lara said funding for local projects will be used through efforts by the Chaffee Recreation Council to raise an estimated $ 20 million to implement the community recovery plan by 2026. Priorities outlined in the plan include $ 15 million for new infrastructure such as path links, toilets and garbage disposal, and $ 5 million for maintenance.

“Partnerships are critical to building on the successful momentum of the Great American Outdoors Act so that we can ensure we leverage federal engagement and be more successful in managing our infrastructure over the long term,” he said.

Details of infrastructure projects and other initiatives in the Chaffee County Outdoor Recreation Management Plan can be found at https://envisionchaffeecounty.org/recreation-in-balance/.

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Photo Edits: Ben Lara, Salida Ranger District Recreation and Lands Staff, discusses plans to renovate Monarch Park Campground with Great American Outdoors Act funds flowing into Chaffee County. He is pictured in front of a beetle treated spruce, but most of the trees died and had to be removed for safety reasons. One positive side of the massive tree deaths is that given a thinner forest, the agency is considering expanding the campsite.

The US Forest Service is almost done fighting a spruce beetle infestation that killed many trees in and around Monarch Park Campground on Monarch Pass. The agency is renovating the facility with $ 300,000 from the Great American Outdoors Act funds for new picnic tables and metal fire rings, potentially adding more campgrounds and making some ADA-accessible.

A Colorado Trail Foundation volunteer crew pictured has already begun construction of a diversion in the South Fooses Creek drainage. Approximately $ 210,000 of GAOA funds will be spent on the project. Photo courtesy of the Colorado Trail Foundation.

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