Forest Service studying campgrounds

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Sweeping changes to the way the U.S. Forest Service operates recreational areas may soon be felt in Moffat County and around all of Colorado.

The forest service is evaluating 15,000 campsites and trailheads and 193 million acres, the total acreage under the service's jurisdiction, in order to learn where it may cut costs.

With its budget being reduced by 2.5 percent for 2007, and 42 percent of expenditures going for fire suppression, the forest service must look for ways to hold the bottom line, officials said.

Rachel Franchina, a forest service recreational program manager in Steamboat Springs, said local studies already are underway.

"About a year ago we were asked to look at all campgrounds, picnic areas and trails," Franchina, said. "We've made proposals, but nothing has been done yet."

She said the next step is to go to the public for input and to see where the forest users concerns are focused.

Options include changing fees at some locations, and moving some opening dates for campgrounds to save money.

Although the forest service doesn't expect to close campsites, some could lose fire-rings, tables and bathroom maintenance as the forest service withdraws from financially supporting underused sites.

Franchina, whose operation area covers the Medicine Bow and Routt National Forests, said the Sawmill Campground in Moffat County last year had trash pick-up suspended, and the bathrooms closed.

Another national forest campground at Freeman Reservoir has managed to avoid changes because of a special use permit.

An agreement between the forest service and Moffat County has the Sherman Youth Camp caretaker attending to the public campground.

That agreement is neither new nor uncommon within the forest service operations.

Private companies taking over the forest service responsibilities has worked at other Colorado locations, Franchina said.

Concessionaires service the White River campgrounds, including Trappers Lake, she said.

At the Trappers Lake campground, a contracted company collects fees, cleans bathrooms and provides information and other services to visitors.

About 10 percent of facilities in 44 national forests across the U.S. have completed studies and are targeted for decommission or closure.

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