Logging on the Grand Mesa could have kept skiers from using trails for Nordic skiing for the next five season. The Grand Mesa Nordic Council struck a deal that will allow trails to be plotted out of the way of trucks hauling timber. (Dan Tille, Grand Mesa Nordic Council)

Grand Mesa Nordic skiers are no longer on a collision course with logging trucks on a popular ski trail at the top of the world’s largest flattop mountain.

An estimated 250 logging trucks had been slated to cut through the Grand Mesa Nordic ski area this season, but no log hauling will take place this winter. Forest officials and the logging company have agreed to hold off until 2023. 

The Grand Mesa Nordic Council had butted heads with the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest over a contract that would have allowed a logging operation to use an important connector trail at the 31-year-old cross-country ski area during prime ski time.

Along with recreational skiers, the area is heavily used in early season by numerous high school and collegiate ski teams because its 10,500-foot elevation usually brings early snow pack at a time when other Nordic areas are still waiting to groom trails.

The U.S. Forest Service contract with Montrose Forest Products allowed the logging company to harvest a 345-acre stand of Engelmann spruce near the ski area and to haul it out on one of the Skyway area’s major trails until Dec. 23 of this year.

After the Nordic Council raised a ruckus over impacts to skiers and the way the contract had been changed over time without input from the council, Montrose Forest Products, which is owned by Wyoming-based Nieman Enterprises, agreed to hold off and do all the log hauling during February and March 2023.

“We hope the collaborative spirit shown here will continue and serve as an example of how communities can work together for the common good,” Grand Mesa Nordic Council Executive Director Christie Aschwanden wrote in a congratulatory announcement to Nordic Council members Monday.

The shift came after the council recently expressed shock and outrage when the logging schedule revealed that timber trucks would rumble over Scales Lake Road until well into the Christmas holidays. Scales Lake Road serves as a connector between the Skyway and County Line trails in the 30-mile trail system that is operated in a partnership between the Nordic Council and the Forest Service.

Under that partnership agreement, Scales Lake Road trail, which was originally built as a logging road, is closed to any motorized traffic each ski season from Nov. 15 to April 15.

Miscommunication about the winter logging operation stretches back to the summer of 2018 when the forest service notified the Nordic Council that it was considering a winter timber cut. The Forest Service later informed the Nordic Council that it would likely be done in summer.

A summer harvest was put up for bid, but there were no takers.

In November, the Forest Service advised the Nordic Council that the timber-cutting contract would be altered and put up for bid again, and that it might have to involve some hauling in the winter.

Former Nordic Council president Joe Ramey stressed to the forest service at that time that if Scales Lake Road was used for hauling logs during half the ski season it would have a huge impact on the Nordic users and the bottom line of the all-volunteer Nordic Council.

This spring, the Forest Service went ahead and tweaked the contract, dropping the price 25% and offering winter hauling through the ski area — without advising the Nordic Council. That kicked off months of thwarted attempts by the Nordic Council to obtain a copy of the logging contract. It took a Freedom of Information Act request before Nordic Council members laid eyes on it.

Last week, Nordic Council members sat down with District Ranger Bill Edwards to hash out a plan to allow logging to go forward and skiing to continue — just not overlapping this winter. Those negotiations resulted in the delay.

Backing up the use of Scales Lake Road for logging until the winter of 2023 will enable the Nordic Council to groom temporary alternative routes while the log hauling takes place.

By the time Montrose Forest Products is ready to haul logs early in 2023, Aschwanden said the council will have had time to develop alternate trails so that skinny skiers and heavy logging trucks can coexist.

Neither Edwards nor Montrose Forest Products immediately returned calls asking for comment on the agreement.

Special to The Colorado Sun Email: nlofholm35@gmail.com Twitter: @nlofholm