Forest reviewing recreation maintenance needs

As part of an agency-wide effort to remove rather than repair and maintain little-used facilities, Forest officials are considering taking out developments from two sites at the Ten-X campground as well as from locations on the North Kaibab and Williams ranger districts.

The Forest Service hosted a public meeting last Wednesday to discuss ideas being considered as well as to explain the larger planning process behind them.

"We're going through a nationwide process of assessing our recreation facilities," said Tusayan District Ranger Rick Stahn.

According to forest landscape architect Charlotte Miner, as part of a federally-ordered Recreation Facility Analysis, planners are looking at all developed sites on the forest as well as how visitors used them to determine if use justified an investment in repair and upkeep.

A development is any kind of enhancement - bathrooms, tables, grills, interpretive areas, trash receptacles and campsites.

"This is developed, versus dispersed, where you might go out and just find a nice place to camp," Miner said.

The Washington office set four management goals, she said - improve user satisfaction, operate and maintain financially sustainable sites, eliminate deferred maintenance and provide opportunities consistent with the forest's unique niche.

Using those criteria, she said they're considering removal of the Ten-X ampitheater and tables, bathrooms and other facilities at Group Site C.

"The thought right now is not to decommission it but to manage it differently," said Brian Poturalski, a recreation planner for the Kaibab National Forest. "On some sites, the use is so low it's not cost effective. Can we put those dollars elsewhere?"

Jackie Denk, public affairs officer on the Kaibab National Forest, stressed that they are presenting ideas. Any proposed action would have to go through the public environmental analysis process first. They also don't represent a shift in how the Forest Service will manage its only developed campsite on the Tusayan Ranger District.

"Ten-X is very popular," said Denk. "We're not indicating we want to lose that or take a step back from Ten-X in any way. We want to work on sites people are actually using."

Ten-X has 70 regular sites and two group sites. There are no hookups. Camping is $10 a night on a first come, first served basis.

Ten-X saw heavier use in the early 90s, when it would be full 80 percent of the time, said Joe McCurry, a planner with the Kaibab Forest. But in the past several years, with more hotels in Tusayan the campground is usually at capacity only on big holiday weekends.

McCurry said the Ten-X ampitheater grew out of a push 20 years ago for more interpretive programs at Forest Service sites.

"The Forest Service was pushing to develop places to put on programs for campers," he said. "We decided it was conducive to have an ampitheater in our area."

Expecting future funding for a more substantial structure, he said they built a temporary seating and staging area with natural materials from the area and assistance from the Park Service.

"There was not a whole lot of money put in to it at all," he said.

Since then its condition has deteriorated to the point of needing major repair if not replacement.

"It would take some major cost to bring it up to our standards," he said.

Looking at what else is available - the interpretive nature trail at the campground and programs in the park - they are considering removal instead.

"Obviously it would be great to offer all of these interpretive opportunities at the site," said Poturalski. "But one of the things that the Park Service is good at is interpretation. It's more appropriate that people have that opportunity there."

The Charley group site, or Group Site C, was established before Ten-X, about 30 years ago, to handle overflow from the park. Stahn said the campground's two group sites are usually sufficient, though Group Site C is used occasionally by fire crews, contractors and some traveling groups by request.

Forest planners are considering removing the 20-year-old bathrooms, trash bins and picnic tables from the site. Stahn recommended either leaving facilities in or closing the site completely.

"If they're going to continue using the Charley group site, they need to keep the porta-potties," said Stahn. "If they take them out, they need to close the site completely."

On the North Kaibab, planners are considering decommissioning the Indian Hollow campground, which currently has three sites and toilets. It's used mostly by backcountry enthusiasts as a stepping off point for wilderness hikes.

"We're finding that people heading this way don't need those facilities," said Poturalski.

On the Williams district, they are proposing removing tables and other developments from Garland Prairie Vista.

Facilities will remain for now at some sites with lighter use, such as some trailheads on the North Kaibab, Russell Tank on the Tusayan District and J.D. Dam Lake on the Williams District.

Stahn said they will look for partnerships to help with maintenance, like the one with jeep tour operators here to maintain restrooms at Grandview as part of their permit to operate.

In a more general sense, Forest planners are also looking for input from the public specifically about the Kaibab National Forest, how they use it and uses they'd like to see in the future.

"We're looking for input from the public on what makes the Kaibab special," said Denk. "If there are any thoughts we'd be interested."

In reviewing facilities, they also analyzed Forest users, breaking them down into five levels of proximity from backdoor users like Tusayan residents who might use the Forest as a place to walk their dog to the international visitor whose use is incidental to coming to Grand Canyon.

They determined that about half of the users are considered regional, traveling between one and four hours and usually on a trip that includes other destinations like Sedona and Las Vegas.

They note that research is showing trends in some uses, like an increase in bird watching, and evolution of others such as off-road travel.

Many are coming expecting accommodations for things that didn't exist when current policies and facilities were being developed, like behemoth RVs, next-generation ATVs and geocaching.

"We're looking at activities we've never fathomed," said Poturalski. "There's all these different toys. It's a very cool thing."

"We have to look at where our use is happening," said Denk. "At Jacob Lake we're working to make slots accessible to RVs. People want to be able to pull their RVs in."

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