Local Forest Service office, ‘open by appointment only,’ concerns locals, ‘disappoints’ commissioner | SkyHiNews.com

Local Forest Service office, ‘open by appointment only,’ concerns locals, ‘disappoints’ commissioner

U.S. Forest Service employee Monte Roberts, left, helps Arin Christensen of Atlanta with the purchase of a Forest Service pass at the Sulphur Ranger District office on Oct. 17, 2016, in this file photo. The office has remained closed since 2020, when it closed because of coronavirus.
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News Archive

When Granby local Daniela Gosselova was hiking near Meadow Lake Reservoir in the Sulphur Ranger District, she found a smoldering fire but could not get any help to extinguish it for three to four hours.

“There was no help to get it out,” Gosselova said. “There is no ranger walking around. There is no information about what to do about fire. There is no cell phone signal.”

District law enforcement officer Lauren Ransom eventually came to help put out the fire and said the delay was due to how much area she has to cover, Gosselova said.

Gosselova told her story during the public comment portion of the town of Granby’s board of trustees meeting July 12. She said she thought the Sulphur Ranger District Office in Granby, which closed in 2020 due to the spread of coronavirus and has not reopened, could have helped her situation if it had been open.

Julie Sutor, a mountain field representative for Congressman Joe Neguse, attended the same meeting to talk to trustees about any issues involving federal agencies. Gosselova addressed Sutor in her comment, voicing her concerns about the U.S. Forest Service.

Reid Armstrong, a spokesperson for the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, said the district has one law enforcement officer for the 400,000 acre district, and the office would not have provided help for Gosselova’s situation even if it was open.

“If they found that campfire situation on a Saturday or Sunday in the past, the office was enclosed anyway,” Armstrong said. “We work very closely with the local sheriffs and local fire departments to manage emergency-type situations.”

When someone finds a smoldering fire like Gosselova did, they should call the county sheriff’s nonemergency number at 970-725-3311, Armstrong said. The county dispatch will alert the Sulphur district’s law enforcement as well.

Grand County residents want the office to open for more than just fire safety, though. Grand County Commissioner Meritt Linke wrote in an email that the closure disappoints him, since the Forest Service owns such a large portion of the land in Grand County.

“The public deserves to have a live person answering questions at a desk so they don’t get the wrong information,” Linke wrote. “Many citizens have reached out to me regarding this and don’t really understand why the office remains closed.”

Armstrong said the Sulphur office, like the others in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, are not completely closed. If someone wants to talk to a ranger in-person, they can call the district and make an appointment.

“We’re happy to make sure you meet with the right person,” Armstrong said. “When you walked into that front desk before and you really had a very specific question … that visitor information person isn’t the right person to help you.”

The offices remain closed because they were delivering information in an outdated way, Armstrong said. They mostly sold maps, passes and permits that were not available online until the offices had to close because of coronavirus. Now they are online, where Armstrong said most people look for camping and trail information as well.

“We have 7.5 million visitors to our forest every year,” Armstrong said. “Across all five of those ranger districts, we had like 30,000 people walk in or call. It wasn’t even 0.1% (of visitors).”

Staffing and finances also play into the decision to keep the office closed. Armstrong said the forests struggle to find the staffing to run their operations how they used to, especially when offices need to have two employees at all times because of safety protocols.

The Arapaho and Roosevelt Forests have consolidated their information phone line from one per district to one for both forests and take turns covering it. Armstrong said it helps get rangers out into the field and the community more often.

Armstrong said the forests have created over 200 formal and informal partnerships with organizations like Headwaters Trail Alliance and the Winter Park Chamber, and the office closure allows them to focus more on current ones and create new ones.

“We’re able to be with literally in more places at once through our connection to these partners,” Armstrong said. “Our ultimate goal is to have forest service information available jointly with other kinds of information in all of the chambers in Grand County.”

She also mentioned working with vendors to provide maps and sell passes to people in the places they go to buy outdoor gear.

Keeping the offices open five days a week cost the forests — and taxpayers — a significant amount every year, Armstrong said. Closing them frees up some funding the forests can use in other areas.

The forests are looking to hire a digital specialist to help keep their social media and website up to date and work with third party sites like AllTrails and COTREX to make sure they have the most accurate trail information.

Sulphur District ranger Eric Freels said in May that the district was moving to a “new way to serve the public and community,” and Armstrong said that transition is ongoing.

“We’re still in the process,” Armstrong said. “Change doesn’t happen overnight. We’re still in the process of standing all of this up.”

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to correct the spelling of Gosselova’s name.

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