Tunnel Hill fuels reduction project will affect 416 acres in Winter Park | SkyHiNews.com

Tunnel Hill fuels reduction project will affect 416 acres in Winter Park

The Tunnel Hill tree cutting project in Winter Par. The green line is the area to be cut during a 2 year fuel reduction project.

The Tunnel Hill project in Winter Park will create a critical fire break between the town of Winter Park, Winter Park Ski Area, and Arapaho National Forest. Contracted hand crews with chain saws will cut dead lodgepole pine trees in a 416-acre area. The US Forest Service cutting project will span over a two-year period. The project is funded in part by Denver Water in order to improve the watershed.

In a presentation to the Fraser town board, U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Craig Magwire of the Sulphur Ranger District and U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Reid Armstrong stated the cutting crews will only burn half of what is cut due to the amount of “good burn days.”

The burning will occur primarily in the fall and it will be done in phases, said Magwire.

“They will work around the large stands of well-established aspen,” said Armstrong. “And the pockets of spruce will be left.”

Mayor Pro-Tem Steve Sumrall asked if the Forest Service would take the wood out instead of burning it.

“The area is too steep and it’s prohibitively expensive,” said Magwire.

“Flying out doesn’t work with small diameter material.”

The process begins with the cut, taking the top 5 inches for the burn pile. The larger part will stay on the ground and help feed the next forest, Armstrong said.

“It’s really important to us (to communicate closures),” Magwire said. “We understand the link between the economy and what goes on there.”

The U.S. Forest Service is developing a communication plan and will work with each community. Information will be on the U.S. Forest Service website. Additionally, Winter Park Resort will be a key partner in communication since there is a trail from the resort into town that will be closed, Armstrong said.

Mayor Peggy Smith stated that she was concerned about visitors at the resort who will use the trails around the project area.

Cutting will not happen on the weekend, Armstrong responded. “That point will be in the contract.”

Trail closures will be kept as close to the work as possible, she said.

The Forest Service will be working closely with the Grand Mountain Biking Alliance (GMBA).

“They will double-check what we do to make sure it is OK,” Armstrong said.

Recognizing the importance of keeping recreational opportunities available, Magwire said the fuel reduction project is intended to protect the community, and the aim is to have closures for the shortest time possible.

“It will be a mosaic, there will be piles, it could be years until we can burn them. We don’t want to smoke out the valley. We want to have local support; you represent the community and we’d like your support,” he said to the town board.

The contracts will be signed in a few months and residents will then start seeing piles on the landscape, he said.