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Private/public project slated for Williams Creek Campground

Williams Creek Campground Closed.

Anyone driving up Piedra Road has seen this sign posted. Those people passing Williams Creek Campground will see that the campground is indeed closed for the 2012 season.

The reason for the closure is hazard tree removal.

Now, the campground, to an untrained eye, looks healthy and beautiful. Tall, beautiful spruce, fir and ponderosa pine trees are thick throughout the campground, shading the tables providing a great setting for local and out-of-state campers alike.

However, this spring when Recreation Supervisor Paul Blackman for the Pagosa Ranger District walked Williams Creek Campground after snowmelt, it was clear that the campground would have to be closed. There were large trees that had fallen across tables, trees had fallen across trails. With these signs, Blackman told SUN staff in a previous interview that, after recognizing the problem, keeping the campground open for the 2012 season would be too hazardous for campers. In order for the campground to be safe, hundreds of trees first must be cut down and removed from the area.

When the closure was announced this spring, Forest Service officials were not sure if all the trees could be cut and removed this year or if the project would extend into next year. That was before the Pagosa Area Biomass Long-Term Stewardship Contract was awarded to J.R. Ford and his Pagosa Land Co. and Renewable Energy LLC. The biomass project will deal with the problem trees at the campground.

The reason for the prevalence of hazard trees is an outbreak of Armillaria in the root systems of the trees. 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 via root systems, ultimately resulting in the decay of the roots. The lack of a root system in many trees creates failures and hazard trees 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 that, by falling, might inflict potential personal or structural damage. These trees cannot be easily detected.

“This is good news. It’s a good arrangement and a good deal for the government,” Blackman said of the arrangement with Ford. One of the problems faced by the Pagosa Ranger District had been what to do with the trees once they were felled. Ford will use all the trees. With his equipment, he will use a hydro-cutter to cut down most of the average-diameter trees and chip them on spot. The larger diameter trees will not be chipped, but Ford said that he has made arrangements for two nearby sawmill operators to haul them off.

This adds another advantage, Blackman said. In addition to getting rid of the felled trees, the footprint will also be reduced. There will be no need to make skid trails.

“Skidding trees can do a ton of damage,” Blackman said.

The Forest Service and Ford will both work on the project. The details of the contract have to be negotiated and agreed upon, according to Ford, due to the work taking place in a campground. Ford said that part of the renegotiation for this project, since it was not part of the original long-term stewardship contract, was that he would not be responsible for all the larger trees, especially those in close proximity to the new restroom facilities at the campground.

“We will be involved with preparatory work, mainly felling, of larger diameter trees on site,” Blackman explained.

The optimal start date for both the Pagosa Ranger District and Ford is Aug. 15.

“We’re very excited to move forward with this project and get the bulk of the project taken care of in one year,” Blackman said. He added that he is confident a portion of the campground will be open next year. However, Blackman also warned that Williams Creek will look dramatically different after the tree removal.

“The area will be heavily impacted and will need time to heal,” Blackman said.

Due to the fact whole stands of trees will be removed, wind becomes an issue for the remaining trees. The Forest Service will monitor for wind resistance of the remaining tree stands.

lindsey@pagosasun.com

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