Our History: White River National Forest builds on legacy | PostIndependent.com

Our History: White River National Forest builds on legacy

Scott Fitzwilliams
White River National Forest Supervisor

Editor’s note

The Post Independent this year will celebrate local institutions’ anniversaries — including our own — with the special page on Sundays. The PI in 2017 traces its roots back 127 years, but 125 as a daily, while the White River National Forest looks back on 125 years, and Colorado Mountain College marks 50 years.

In 1958, annual visitation to the White River National Forest was about 800,000. My, how things have changed.

As we celebrate 125 years of the White River National Forest, we would like to take stock of what happened in our 125th year. Today, the White River annually hosts some 13 million visitors and counting. Increasing visitation is one of the many challenges we face as stewards of this amazing landscape. What was once a place for a few people scratching a living off the land is now part of the very fabric of our communities and an outdoor paradise for millions.

The White River National Forest is an economic engine for the communities we serve. It is a backdrop for a wide range of activities and experiences for locals and international visitors alike. The White River exemplifies the modern day version of what Roosevelt and Pinchot had in mind when they created the multiple-use management philosophy. Their vision of lands managed for the public trust was and remains a wonderful experiment in democracy.

Each year we collate the many accomplishments across the forest. 2016 was another exceptional year on the White River. Despite the challenges we face with limited resources, I am proud of what we did on behalf of the American public. Here are some highlights of our accomplishments in 2016:

• Record number of visitors hosted.

• More than 200 miles of road maintained or repaired.

• More than 4,000 acres of hazardous fuels treated.

• More than 56,000 head of livestock grazed.

• 56,000 trees planted.

• 78,000 volunteer hours valued at over $1.8 million.

• 7,800 acres of noxious weeds treated.

• More than 15,000 jobs associated with activities on the White River National Forest.

Today the demands for the goods and services the forest provides are increasing. More trails, more permits, more products and more space. We continue to forge ahead and with the help of partners and volunteers and I am proud to report we are making good progress.

The role our partners have in helping us deliver goods and services cannot be overstated. There are far too many to mention but their contributions are incredible. Two new partnerships started in 2016 are worth highlighting.

First, the “Adopt a Trail” program on the Eagle Holy Cross District got off to an amazing start. Twenty-nine local organizations adopted 29 trail segments and contributed more than 1,300 hours to maintain 90 miles of trail. More than 400 people became local stewards of the forest.

The second new partnership started in 2016 was with the U.S. Air Force Academy. Eight cadets studying engineering at the academy designed and built a new foot bridge in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. The cadets received academic credit for the work and the public got a beautiful new bridge. Plans are in the works for future projects with the academy.

As we look to the future, the challenges in managing the White River National Forest are significant. With so much work to do it is essential we focus our efforts in areas where we can provide the greatest good to the public over the long run. Looking forward we have some basic priorities.

Managing for resilient landscapes: By using all the tools at our disposal we manage these incredible landscapes so they are resilient to demands and changes well into the future. As use continues to increase and demands for natural resources and wild spaces increases, it is imperative that we do our best to manage landscapes that are sustainable into the future. Thinning of hazardous fuels, prescribed fire, timber harvesting, watershed improvement and noxious weed treatments are a few of the ways we hope to achieve this goal.

Sustainable recreation: Being America’s most popular outdoor playground has its challenges. (The White River sees more visitation than Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Yosemite national parks combined.)

The grandeur of this place and the proximity to Interstate 70 ensures this will continue. Our goal is to make sure the experiences people come to enjoy are sustainable. There are always limits to what we can do alone, but working with partners and volunteers and prioritizing where to invest our resources is a must as we look to the future.

Connecting with communities: To be effective in the future we need to remain relevant to the people we serve. We need to find a balance between meeting the needs of the changing demographics of the visiting public and still serving the local communities who depend on the White River National Forest for their economic and social well-being.

The White River serves diverse communities, from the rural to the resort. Our challenge this coming year and in years to come is to ensure open dialogue, discussion and problem solving among all stakeholders and interested members of the public. When we work to find common ground, build consensus and talk to one another openly, we reach common goals and the land and communities benefit.

The future looks bright for next year and the next 125 years. To the communities we serve, we’re here and we will continue to manage the White River National Forest to the best of our abilities using both the mission of the Forest Service and the priorities highlighted above to guide that management.

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