Hike service

Local Forest Service office ‘open by appointment only’ worries locals, ‘disappoints’ commissioner

U.S. Forest Service employee Monte Roberts, left, helps Arin Christensen of Atlanta purchase a Forest Service pass at the Sulfur Ranger District office October 17, 2016, in this file photo. The office has remained closed since 2020, when it closed due to the coronavirus.
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News Archive

When Danielle Grosslova, a resident of Granby, was hiking near the Meadow Lake reservoir in the Sulfur Ranger District, she found a smoldering fire but was unable to get any help to put it out for three to four hours.

“There was no help getting him out,” Grosslova said. “There are no rangers walking around. There is no information on what to do in case of fire. There is no cell phone signal.

District law enforcement officer Lauren Ransom eventually came to help put out the fire and said the delay was due to the area she had to cover, Grosslova said.

Grosslova told her story during the public comment portion of the July 12 meeting of the City of Granby’s board of directors. She said she believed the Sulfur Ranger district office in Granby, which closed in 2020 due to the spread of the coronavirus and has not reopenedcould have improved his situation if he had been open.

Julie Sutor, mountain field representative for Congressman Joe Neguse, attended the same meeting to speak to administrators about any issues involving federal agencies. Grosslova addressed Sutor in her comment, expressing concerns about the US Forest Service.

Reid Armstrong, spokesperson for Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, said the district has a law enforcement officer for the 400,000-acre district and the office would not have provided assistance. for Grosslova’s situation even though it was open.

“If they found this campfire situation on a Saturday or Sunday in the past, the office was closed anyway,” Armstrong said. “We work closely with local sheriffs and local fire departments to handle emergency situations.”

When someone finds a smoldering fire like Grosslova did, they should call the county sheriff’s non-emergency number at 970-725-3311, Armstrong said. The county dispatch will also alert law enforcement in the Sulfur District.

However, Grand County residents want the office open for more than fire safety. Grand County Commissioner Meritt Linke wrote in an email that the closure disappoints him because the Forest Service owns so much of Grand County land.

“The public deserves to have a live person answering questions at a desk so they don’t get the wrong information,” Linke wrote. “Many citizens have contacted me about this and don’t really understand why the office remains closed.”

Armstrong said the Sulfur office, like others in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, is not completely closed. If anyone wants to speak to a ranger in person, they can call the district and make an appointment.

“We’re happy to make sure you meet the right person,” Armstrong said. “When you walked into this reception before and really had a very specific question…this visitor information person is not the right person to help you.”

The offices remain closed because they were providing information in an outdated way, Armstrong said. They mainly sold cards, passes and permits which were not available online until the offices had to close due to the coronavirus. Now they’re online, where Armstrong said most people are also looking for camping and trail information.

“We have 7.5 million visitors to our forest every year,” Armstrong said. “In those five ranger districts, we had about 30,000 people showing up or calling. It wasn’t even 0.1% (of visitors).

Personnel and finances also play into the decision to keep the office closed. Armstrong said the forests are struggling to find the staff they need to run their operations the way they used to, especially when offices are required to have two staff at all times due to security protocols.

Arapaho and Roosevelt Forests have consolidated their information hotline from one per district to one for both forests and cover it on a rotating basis. Armstrong said it helps get rangers into the field and into the community more often.

Armstrong said Forests has created more than 200 formal and informal partnerships with organizations like Headwaters Trail Alliance and the winter park roomand the closure of offices allows them to focus more on current ones and create new ones.

“We’re able to be with literally more places at once because of our connection to these partners,” Armstrong said. “Our ultimate goal is to have Forest Service information in conjunction with other types of information in every room in Grand County.”

She also mentioned working with vendors to provide maps and sell passes to people at places where they go to buy outdoor gear.

Keeping offices open five days a week costs forests — and taxpayers — a significant amount each year, Armstrong said. Closing them frees up funds that forests can use in other areas.

Forests is looking to hire a digital specialist to help them keep their social media and website up to date and work with third party sites like AllTrails. and COTREX to ensure they have the most accurate trail information.

Sulfur District Ranger Eric Freels said in May that the district was adopting a “new way of serving the public and the community,” and Armstrong said the transition is underway.

“We’re still in the process,” Armstrong said. “Change does not happen overnight. We are still in the process of putting all this in place.