Beetles Plague Colorado Campgrounds
Who’d have thought it would come to this: national forests and parks delaying the opening of numerous sites — or closing them altogether — to remove thousands of dead beetle-clobbered trees? But it’s true in the nation’s public parks, and it’s probably something that private park operators ought to be aware of as well because weakened lodge pole and other pine are more susceptible to falling over onto unsuspecting campers, hikers, picnickers or even those asleep in their tents.
"That's our number one concern for people," said Mary Ann Chambers, a bark beetle specialist with the U.S. Forest Service, noting that more trees are likely to fall with the passage of time. "The beetle-killed trees are at an age now where they're a bigger hazard."
The state's latest pine beetle infestation, building since the late 1990s, has grown to 1.5 million acres of mostly lodge pole forest, reaching a point foresters have labeled "catastrophic,” according to Denver’s Rocky Mountain News.
This week, the White River National Forest and Rocky Mountain National Park announced specific beetle-related campground closures. But more areas are likely to issue specific closure lists in the coming weeks, as experts are able to assess beetle-invaded campgrounds, Chambers said.
Rangers in the White River National Forest announced six of 57 campgrounds would likely have delayed openings and three — Prospector, Lowry and Blue River in the Dillon Ranger District — would be closed this year "due to the vast extent of the beetle infestation," the Forest Service said in a statement.
Rocky Mountain National Park announced the closure of the 98-site Timber Creek Campground on the park's west side until early July. Campgrounds on the park's east side will likely have partial closures, and backcountry sites used by backpackers will be closed for short periods as well this summer, said park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson.
Some campgrounds have already had hazardous trees removed, including the popular Heaton Bay site in the Dillon area. Crews are already at work at several campsites, despite deep snow cover, so campgrounds will be ready for the late spring and summer.
Campers will need to be prepared to see treeless campgrounds, however.
"Yes, there will probably be some campgrounds that don't have tree cover — that's part of the challenge with the (beetle)," Chambers said. She said Realtors in Summit County have already found a way to put the treeless areas in a positive light, declaring such places feature "emerging vistas."
Despite work to remove the trees, officials are reminding the public to be careful and not presume all hazardous trees have been cut down. The beetle problem continues, they warn, and caution visitors to be aware of dead trees and wind conditions.
A shortage of contractors means it will take time to get to all the risky trees.
"Everybody and their brother is working on these bark beetle projects," Chambers said. "You can only do so much in a season with the number of contractors we have in Colorado, and there's a lot of work."