Purgatory Resort is looking to expand its skiable terrain, and if you have an opinion about the matter, now’s the time to speak up.
The U.S. Forest Service on Thursday announced a 30-day public comment period that starts Friday. It will be the only chance for the public to weigh in on the proposed project.
Purgatory Resort, about 25 miles north of Durango, operates on a special-use permit with the Forest Service, covering about 2,300 acres of skiable terrain.
In 2008, Purgatory Resort drafted a plan that looked at several areas of expansion. The currently proposed project, which is in the Ice Creek area, would add one new ski lift and four easy-to-intermediate runs on about 45 acres.
The Ice Creek area is located just east of the Hermosa Park Express lift. An existing snowmobile trail would be rerouted.
Dave Rathbun, general manager of Purgatory Resort, said the new ski trails would fill a need on the ski mountain, where easy-to-intermediate runs are in short supply.
“Adding this lift and ski area would be a great place for people as they learn to ski,” he said.
The resort’s other place for beginners is the Columbine area, but officials say warming temperatures continue to affect snow conditions. Ice Creek, however, is at a higher elevation and is expected to maintain snowpack better.
“This would give us the ability to have more terrain readily available toward the end of season,” Rathbun said.
But the proposed expansion is not without impacts. In all, a little more than 30 acres will be disturbed by construction, with trees removed, power lines installed and access roads built.
The new lift will also have the capacity to bring as many as 2,400 skiers up the mountain per hour.
According to Forest Service records, there is a concern lynx habitat will be adversely affected. And, it’s expected water quality in the East Fork of Hermosa Creek, home to native cutthroat trout, could be impacted.
The Rico-Rockwood Wagon Road, a site eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, is also a concern with the proposed project.
Jimbo Buickerood with San Juan Citizens Alliance said the last environmental impact analysis on the proposed project was in 2008 and should be updated.
“That’s 12 years old,” he said. “This is lynx habitat, and corridors are always an issue. We need current information and findings from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
Buickerood also pointed out the East Fork is the headwaters of Hermosa Creek, which is considered an “outstanding waters” waterway. He called for a closer analysis of the project’s affect on water quality.
The Forest Service will accept public comments until July 6. Comments can be submitted online at https://bit.ly/2U8hddl starting Friday or by mail to Kara Chadwick, Forest Supervisor, c/o Noel Ludwig, P.O. Box 439, Bayfield, CO 81122.
The San Juan National Forest will also host a virtual public meeting from 4 to 6:15 p.m. June 22 to inform the public about the project and answer questions. Information about the virtual public meeting, as well as the formal notice of proposed action, is available on the project webpage at https://bit.ly/2MyzvQM.
After the public comment period, the Forest Service will determine in a final environmental assessment whether the project will require a full and more intensive environmental impact statement or if it qualifies for a finding of no significant impact and be allowed to proceed.
At that time, the Forest Service will make a final determination just how much impact Purgatory Resort’s proposed expansion would have on things such as lynx habitat or the East Fork of Hermosa Creek.
James Simino, Columbine District ranger for the Forest Service, said the agency’s internal biologist will review the Fish and Wildlife Service’s most recent data about lynx habitat, but it’s not expected the Fish and Wildlife Service will be fully consulted unless an environmental impact statement is required.
Simino said the Forest Service hopes to have a final determination by this fall. Then, Purgatory’s Rathbun said the resort will have a better timeline should the expansion move forward.
“Once that decision is made, we will know a general length of time the process will take,” Rathbun said.
Purgatory Resort has not had a significant expansion since around 2009, Rathbun said. Every few years, the ski mountain looks at possible ways to expand.
“We are always trying to see what could help the mountain be a better destination and provide a better experience for our guests,” he said. “That’s an ongoing effort.”