Little Molas decision withdrawn

The San Juan National Forest has announced that it will withdraw a recent decision to improve facilities at Little Molas Lake so that public input can be more thoroughly evaluated and issues surrounding the proposal can be more fully understood.
The San Juan National Forest had proposed rehabilitation of areas damaged by unregulated camping at Little Molas Lake and construction of a Forest Service fee campground and picnic area. A year-round parking lot was to be built adjacent to U.S. Highway 550 offering access to the Colorado Trail.

However, the Forest Service proposal drew opposition and eventually an appeal charging that a fee-free scaled back proposal should have been selected. The 12 appellants called instead for Alternative 3, a more moderate plan that would improve Little Molas and result in no fees for the public.

“We’re very grateful that the Forest Service is doing this,” said Kitty Benzar of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition. “We still support Alternative 3. We know that Little Molas is in need of repairs.”

By withdrawing its decision, the Forest Service said it acknowledges that more public input was needed.

“We will revisit the (National Environmental Policy Act) process to make sure we hear from everyone,” said Pauline Ellis, Columbine District Ranger. “But our goal is still to protect and manage the natural resources that are threatened at Little Molas, replace the camping opportunities we lost when Purgatory Campground was traded out of public ownership, and improve public safety through adequate parking.”

Little Molas Lake currently offers undeveloped camping on the San Juan National Forest about 4 miles south of Silverton. The high-elevation lake is popular for fishing, a trailhead that accesses the heavily used Colorado Trail and four-season recreation.

DMR breaks ground on expansion

After three controversial years in the planning process, Durango Mountain Resort’s ambitious expansion has broken ground. Work has begun on the first residential neighborhood, Tacoma Village, under the new Master Plan that calls for 1,649 units and 410,000 square feet of new commercial space in six separate villages. La Plata County commissioners approved the final plat for Tacoma Village on Sept. 8.
“After all the time, effort and significant investment, we’re overjoyed to finally be under construction, and the response from prospective purchasers has been truly overwhelming,” said Gary Derck, president and CEO of DMR.

Just across from DMR’s main entrance, Tacoma Village’s first phase will include the Black Bear townhomes, 16 two- and three-bedroom units with prices ranging from $350,000 to $500,000. Eight reservations already have been taken.
Over the course of the 25-year development plan, most of the units will be concentrated in an expanded Purgatory Village at the base of the ski area, including hotels, a new day lodge, resort condos, transfer lifts and recreational facilities. The remaining units will be spread through five residential villages, ranging from cabins and townhomes to executive and estate homesites.

DOW makes arrest of super poacher

An Iowa man has been arrested and charged with illegally killing trophy-sized elk and mule deer in Southwest Colorado’s backcountry and transporting them across state lines for commercial sale. The arrest of George Allen Water, a 53-year-old Iowa farmer, represents the conclusion of the biggest poaching investigation in state history.

Waters has admitted to poaching 45 trophy-quality animals valued at $270,000 from locations in Colorado and Iowa beginning in 1992. Fourteen of these animals were poached in Southwest Colorado. The government’s agreement with Waters requires him to serve five years in federal prison without parole, pay a $10,000 fine and serve three years of supervised probation. Waters also faces additional fines of $500,000 for wildlife violations, $250,000 for illegal possession of a machine gun and an additional 10 years in prison.

During the investigation, authorities determined that Waters camouflaged animal heads and stashed them in trees, returning later to claim them as “found heads.” He left the carcasses to rot.

Prior to his arrest, Waters was busted for hunting near the Uncompahgre National Forest with a rifle during archery season and without a license.

USFS reopens the Stevens Creek Trail

Forest Service officials announced Tuesday that they have the Stevens Creek and Lake Eileen trails to public use. The trails, which were damaged during the Missionary Ridge Fire, have been closed since last summer.

The Stevens Creek Trail, a popular hiking and mountain biking trail on the west side of Missionary Ridge, was not as damaged as officials had feared. Crews only had to
remove hazardous trees and do some tread work before the trail could be reopened. The trail has not been affected by run-off from the creek.

Work on the Lake Eileen Trail, at the northwest end of Vallecito Reservoir, was more problematic. Because the trail lies within the Weminuche Wilderness, trail crews were not allowed to use chainsaws to remove hazardous trees. After exploring several options for tree removal, the trees were successfully removed last week with explosives.

Despite the re-opening of the trails, Long-term Rehabilitation Team Leader Dave Baker urged caution. “Just because we’ve opened these trails does not mean they are safe,” he said. “We removed what we considered to be the imminently hazardous trees, but there are still lots of trees that could come down on a stormy or windy day.”

Four trails still remain closed because of fire damage: Runlett Park, North Canyon, Graham and Shearer Creek. The Forest Service hopes to open North Canyon and Graham this fall with the re-opening of East Vallecito Road.

Altercation leads to fatal stabbing

The Whispering Pines Apartments, 12 miles north of Durango, have again been the scene of local violence. Last Friday, a disagreement led to death by stabbing of 30-year-old Fabian Bernard Gallegos.

A La Plata County resident was booked into La Plata County Detention Center on Friday night in connection with the death that resulted from a disagreement outside the apartment complex. Raymond Wade, 47, is being held with no bond on a charge of First Degree Murder.

A second man, 27-year-old Rodney Bellino, a cousin of the deceased, was treated for apparent stab wounds at Mercy Medical Center. Both victims had been transported to the hospital by friends and relatives in private vehicles.

According to the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, Gallegos and the injured man were visiting relatives at Whispering Pines. Preliminary investigations show that a disagreement was taking place between Wade and other residents of the apartment complex when, at some point, the two victims became involved. Sheriff’s investigators are continuing to interview witnesses and canvas the apartment complex.

North Main head-on claims man’s life

Late last Saturday, Sept. 19, a car accident took the life of 70-year-old William Brady when a 2002 Subaru traveling southbound in the northbound traffic lane in the 4000 block of Main Avenue crashed head-on into Brady’s vehicle. The driver of the Subaru has been identified as 29-year-old Ruth L. Ingraham, of Durango.

It is believed that Ingraham was intoxicated at the time of the accident, and a preliminary blood alcohol test shortly after the accident showed her blood alcohol at over .20 – twice the legal limit for driving a motor vehicle.

Formal charges by the District Attorney’s Office will be filed pending the completion of the investigation by the Durango Police Department. The only other contact the Durango Police Department has had with Ingraham was when she was involved in a minor accident in late August of this year. Alcohol was not a factor in that accident.

- compiled by Will Sands





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