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Logging on the Grand Mesa could keep skiers from using trails for Nordic skiing for the next five season. The Grand Mesa Nordic Council is particularly concerned because the logging plan would turn Scales Lake trail into a logging route through Dec. 23. (Dan Tille, Grand Mesa Nordic Council)

Nordic skiers and forest managers took steps Friday toward lessening the impacts of a logging operation on a popular winter recreation area on the top of the Grand Mesa.

Officials with the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest sat down with representatives from the Grand Mesa Nordic Council for two hours and came away with several possible options for hauling logs through the Skyway Nordic trail system without severely impacting skiing at a time when the area is heavily used for training and competitions

Both Bill Edwards, district ranger with the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest, and Christie Aschwanden, executive director of the Nordic Council, called the two-hour meeting Friday “productive.”

“We brainstormed on different ideas for how we can accommodate both uses,” Edwards said. “We recognize this does come with impacts for skiers.”

“We were not given the opportunity to collaborate before or to help find a solution,” Aschwanden said. “I feel like we started to do that today.”

The forest service has contracted with Montrose Forest Products to cut 345 acres of Engelmann spruce near the 30 miles of trails operated by the Nordic Council under a 30 year partnership with the forest service.

Logging has continued around the ski trails in that three decades, but until now, it has not pitted logging trucks against Nordic skiers. 

Plans for the current logging operation call for hauling 250 loads of cut timber out through the ski area on what was originally a logging road that was turned into a main arterial trail for skinny skiers. That road is the only access to a number of other trails in the Skyway system and since the trails were created has never been designated for winter log hauling.

The Nordic Council had known for some time that a logging operation was planned near the ski trails, but Aschwanden said the board was blindsided by the recent revelation that hauling on the Scales Lake Road connector trail would be allowed into late December.

Grand Mesa Nordic Council says key access points in the Skyway and County Line trail systems will be closed during logging operations this season. (Handout)

Two possible solutions that came out of Friday’s meeting were to cut a ski trail adjacent to Scales Lake Road so that both skiers and logging trucks could use the area at the same time; and to suspend logging on Nov. 15 and finish the operation later in the winter when prime Nordic skiing season is over.

Edwards said cutting the healthy stand of spruce is necessary as part of the forest service plans to mitigate fire and beetle-kill damage on the mesa. The stand of trees at the heart of the skiing/logging controversy hasn’t been cut in around 40 years.

“We are not opposing this sale,” Aschwanden said. “We are just asking that the terms be changed.”

Edwards said the next step in trying to accommodate both skiing and logging on the top of the mesa will be a meeting between the Forest Service and Montrose Forest Products to see what the company is willing to tweak in the contract.

The company has nearly completed building roads from the logging stand to the Nordic ski area. Cutting and hauling is expected to begin in October. Some of the hauling must be done after the snow flies because the roads need to be frozen or snow-covered to accommodate the 85,000-pound logging trucks.