The San Juan National Forest’s recreational budget has declined 50 percent over the past decade, and that’s caused the agency to make tough decisions about what’s worth saving.
“It is obvious we cannot sustain the same services and facilities today as we could 10 years ago when our budget was twice as large,” forest officials wrote in a recent report.
After reducing its full-time workforce from 18 to 11 employees and cutting the visitor information program by 30 percent, the Forest Service is now looking to the forest itself to reduce costs.
“When projected downward trends in budget and staffing are considered, it is obvious that trade-offs and tough decisions will need to be made,” the report says.
The San Juan National Forest counts 127 recreational sites within its 1.8 million acres. They range anywhere from trailheads to boating docks to restrooms. Over the past year, the Forest Service has been in talks with local governments and the public about what changes could be made to scale back budget demands.
During the week of Nov. 9, the Forest Service will release a set of proposed actions that look to reduce 30 percent in operating costs (restroom cleaning, litter cleanup, salaries), 17 percent in deferred maintenance costs (backlog of work projects) and 4 percent in annual maintenance costs (painting, facility repairs).
As a result of the revised plan, recreational expenses will go from the current $3,861,494 budget to $3,226,037 – saving the Forest Service $635,457.
“The recommendations are still subject to change, and we do anticipate some compromise may be necessary to garner optimal buy-in from constituents and local governments,” said Brian White, recreation staff leader for the San Juan National Forest.
Among the more notable changes, camping fees would be initiated for Lower Hermosa and Little Molas campgrounds, and Ferris Campground would be closed. However, about 40 percent of the forest’s maintained sites would not be affected.
The Forest Service hopes to implement its plan in January 2016.