By Roger Baker
The “Annual Operating and Financial Plan” that was approved at Tuesday’s meeting of the Gilpin County Commissioners was an indication of how close – and yet confusing – the County’s relationship with the US Forest Service is.
More than half of Gilpin County’s land is publicly owned, and while Golden Gate Canyon State Park has a lot of that (and the Bureau of Land Management a little), most of it is under the USFS.
Dealing with any federal bureaucracy is always tricky, and our difficulties in dealing with the USFS are compounded because the USFS lands in Gilpin are almost evenly split between the Arapaho National Forest – with offices in Idaho Springs – and the Roosevelt National Forest, based in Boulder.
Fortunately, both forests are operated – along with the Pawnee National Grassland in northeastern Colorado – out of Fort Collins, and agreements of this sort typically come out of that office.
Tuesday’s agreement specifically was for the Gilpin County Sheriff’s Office to provide patrol service in the USFS campgrounds in the County – Cold Springs, Pickle Gulch, Columbine and Kelly Dahl – as well as on the USFS roads in the County.
And it’s the listing of these roads – mostly known as Schedule A roads from a separate agreement the County has with the USFS to provide road maintenance – that usually gets some attention up here.
Roads like Apex Valley and Upper Apex, Mammoth Gulch and Missouri Gulch are all, technically, Forest Service roads. And here’s where things get really complicated.
Most of these, of course, are very old roads, dating from the mining period, and were generally established without formal rights-of-way. And the Forest Service has made it clear it has no intention in granting the County any, and in fact tries very diligently to limit improvements to the roads.
But these are also among the County’s most-traveled roads, and the demands for road maintenance are sometimes greater than what the USFS thinks is appropriate.
And the presence of the Rollins Pass road on the list points out another problem area.
For years, since the passage of the federal act establishing the James Peak Wilderness Area, Gilpin and Grand counties have been petitioning the USFS to begin the process that was called for in the act to reopen Rollins Pass to vehicular traffic.
The official USFS view of that proposal is a bit ambiguous, but they haven’t had to be more forthcoming because the apex of the route – up near Needle’s Eye tunnel – is actually in Boulder County, and the Boulder Commissioners have understandably been less enthusiastic about reopening the route.
Talks are underway again, with the non-profit Rollins Pass Restoration Association having recently commissioned an engineering study on what it would take to reopen the tunnel – and that’s a necessary first step in reopening the route.
The Gilpin County Commissioners recently attended a meeting with RPRA, USFS officials, and some of the Grand County Commissioners – but significantly, no one from Boulder County was present.
On the other hand, Boulder County is taking the lead in another joint project with USFS on designating areas for shooting sports in the high country. Whether or not actual shooting ranges will be constructed, and where, is still an open question, but working with Boulder, Jefferson, Clear Creek, Larimer counties and the USFS should yield a better outcome for everyone concerned.
Administrative boundaries aside, we’re all up here in these woods together, so we’d better act like it.