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Comments sought on Williams Creek Campground project

“Long before the last rainfall … in yesterday lived fire in the core of cedar, of lightning stepping, among, within the forests of dry decaying rootlets and the fallen spark of painful fire rolling.” — from Peter Blue Cloud’s “fire/rain”

Stands of grey spruce, unadorned by their green needles, have become evident in the past couple of years to even motorists traveling Wolf Creek Pass. The Little Sand Fire has burned over 3,700 acres in Pagosa’s own backyard; the billowing smoke apparent from town. The forests are not healthy and the poor health of the trees, in popular recreation areas, has become a hazard for the recreating public.

Peter Blue Cloud’s poem ends with the line, “Long before the beginning we were nothing if not the guardians, of earth, her wond’rous birth Creation fashioned once, and never again.”

The Pagosa Ranger District is closing Williams Creek this summer to once again become guardians of this earth.

Williams Creek Campground is arguably the most popular campground in the portion of the San Juan National Forest under the supervision of the Pagosa Ranger District. Williams Creek Campground will be closed this summer so the Forest Service may attempt to mitigate the negative, hazardous effects that insect and disease have had on the spruce stands surrounding the campground, namely that of tree mortality caused by Armillaria root rot.

“We are currently conducting detailed assessments of the number of trees to be removed during the first phase of the project, which will cover approximately one third of the campground,” said Paul Blackman, recreation, trails and wilderness manager for the Pagosa Ranger District, in an e-mail. Blackman continued, “A contract package will then be prepared, with the hopes that it will be awarded and work will begin late this summer.

“Plans are being developed to address the remainder of the campground in subsequent phases; some of this work will begin this year, but the majority of it will take place in subsequent years. We hope that areas treated during the first phase will be able to be opened next summer to the public.”

The decision to close Williams Creek Campground this summer was made after visiting the campground after winter and finding several fallen trees, some landing on top of picnic tables and camp sites. To keep the campground open, according to Blackman, was too great a risk.

As previously reported in The SUN, for over a decade the U.S. Forest Service Pagosa Ranger District has been monitoring and trying to mitigate an outbreak of Armillaria, a fungus which spreads from tree to tree by root systems, ultimately resulting in the decay of the roots. The lack of a root system in many trees creates failures and hazard trees — both endanger the public. A failure is a green, visibly healthy tree which falls unexpectedly. A hazard tree is a standing tree, either live or dead, which has injuries or defects that may cause failure and, by falling, may inflict potential personal or structural damage. These trees can not be easily detected.

While the campground is closed, Pagosa Ranger District will begin work on the Williams Creek Campground Hazard Tree Removal Project. According to the project’s description, “The project will cut and remove trees within the campground area that are infected with various forms of disease.” Those trees will be sold as either firewood or sawtimber.

Public comment for this project begins today. The comment period will last for 20 days, during which time interested groups or individuals may submit written comments to: District Ranger, P.O. Box 310, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147, or hand-delivered to the Pagosa District Office at 180 Pagosa St. between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Comments may also be faxed to the attention of Paul Blackman at 264-1538. Comments may also be submitted to comments-rocky-mountain-san-juan-pagosa@fs.fed.us. Oral comments may be given either during normal business hours or via telephone at 264-1505 or 264-1532.

More information on the Williams Creek Campground Hazard Tree Removal Project may be found at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/sanjuan/projects.

lindsey@pagosasun.com

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