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Town considers Reservoir Hill chairlift

Despite controversy surrounding a plan to install a chairlift on Reservoir Hill, the Pagosa Springs Town Council signaled its willingness to continue discussions on the matter during the May 19 mid-month meeting.

The council made the decision to purchase the chairlift late last year (with only council member Shari Pierce casting a dissenting vote) after the Town Tourism Committee (TTC) proposed securing a decommissioned chairlift from the Cuchara Ski Area at a Dec. 7 town council meeting, asking the town for $41,000 to dismantle the lift and transport it to Pagosa Springs. A week later, council voted to appropriate the money for the lift.

If the lift is constructed (with an original estimated cost of $300,000), it would transport skiers, snowboarders and sledders up the hill for a brief run down slopes. The TTC completed a sledding and snowboarding run on the hill last winter — but has proposed more runs if the lift is installed.

In the summer, the lift would allegedly provide transportation up the hill for mountain bikers, hikers, sightseers and attendees of festivals held on the hill. Proposed summertime use of the lift, in fact, necessitated one of the retrofits for the lift: the Cuchara lift currently allows for uploading; a Reservoir Hill lift would also require downloading capabilities to accommodate festival attendees or other visitors to the hill who find a descent too difficult.

However, before considering construction of the lift on the hill, the town asked the TTC to develop a business plan for Reservoir Hill recreation. In January, the TTC reported to council that it would release a Request For Information (RFI), soliciting bids for concessionaires to operate the lift.

As of May 19, only one bid was received by the TTC.

As discussions proceeded on the chairlift, the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC) reported that before a chair lift could be installed on the hill, forestry mitigation would be needed. According to the PRC and forestry officials, in order to prevent the spread of bark beetle on the hill, almost nine out of 10 trees would need to be harvested. The PRC also stated that previous planting on the hill had crowded out many indigenous flora that, left to normal conditions, would otherwise populate the forest on the hill.

As such, the PRC said, the hill presented an unnatural and potentially hazardous environment with fires being the primary concern.

Issues were clouded by the PRC’s report and the TTC’s Reservoir Hill Task Force Subcommittee asked council for clear direction regarding how to proceed on developing plans for a chair lift.

Presenting to council May 19, Town Manager David Mitchem reported, “We are now faced with plans being developed by two advisory bodies that are approaching the task from different points of view. This is a duplication of effort.”

Mitchem went on to recommend, “(T)ask the Park and Recreation Commission with the development of a plan for the thinning and preservation (protection against the mountain pine beetles) of the Reservoir Hill forest and task the Town Tourism Committee with development of the Business Plan for Reservoir Hill.”

“Both (PRC and TTC) seem to be comfortable with this approach,” Mitchem told council.

Mitchem told council that a model of the hill had been developed, showing a possible placement of a chairlift, and that model had been displayed at various businesses in town for the sake of soliciting feedback from local residents and visitors alike.

“Frankly, some of the comments that have been received have been negative,” Mitchem said, but added that he had also seen some positive comments as well.

Mitchem finished by saying a full report of that input would be delivered at a later council meeting.

“I would encourage both groups to continue doing what they’re doing and not to lose heart,” said council member Don Volger. “Try to maintain the enthusiasm. There’s going to be some negative comments.”

Mitchem’s plan to task the two groups with different plans was passed with a unanimous vote.

It should be several months before the TTC will deliver a business plan for the hill. However, it could be much longer before council decides what feedback regarding amenities on the hill it will accept or ignore — and whether or not it will choose to proceed with installing the lift on Reservoir Hill.

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