Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Zoie Koostra
Pathfinder 

Big Larch Cleanup Set in Motion

 

Micah Drew, Pathfinder

SEELEY LAKE- Big Larch Campground, which has been closed for overnight use this season, could be open by mid-July, according to the Forest Service.

At the Seeley Lake Community Council meeting on Monday, June 11, Seeley Lake District Ranger Rachel Feigley stated the campground needed to be cleared of hazardous trees, which are mostly fir trees, before the area is safe for overnight camping outside of the two large group campsites.

"With the snow load this year, and now we're getting root rot and Douglas-fir beetle in the stand, that stand really needs to be treated. It's not safe for people to spend extended periods of time camping there in the campground," Feigley said.

The Seeley Lake Ranger District has been cutting down between 80 and 100 hazardous trees at the campground for the last three years. This project will prevent the agency from having to do the same maintenance in the following years.

"We're working on a service contract to have somebody come in and fulfill the prescription and remove the trees and we'll likely deck them and then sell the decks," Feigley said. "It depends on who bids on it, if we have an available bidder and when they can get in there and do it. We're trying to line up the parts and pieces right now."

Currently, the contract has not been awarded and there is no stipulation the project must be done by mid-July. That is the best-case-scenario Feigley said in a follow-up email.

Among those concerned about the campground's closure is local logger Elden Rammel, known by most as Papa Smurf. Rammel presented his concerns with Feigley during the open comment period. Among these concerns were the timeline of the project, its economic impact on the community and the manner in which the area was going to be cleared.

"You're throwing away a lot of money here when that should've been done three weeks ago," Rammel said. "Why didn't you do it three weeks ago? Ten years ago I went in there for three days and cleaned that up. I didn't have to go through all this stuff you're talking about, it was green slip sale. So you're buying month after month after month and that's hurting the economy of Seeley Lake."

Feigley said green slip sales were no longer permitted by the Forest Service and the limited amount of resources in the area prevented the project from being completed sooner.

Rammel also felt the cut trees could be sold as timber to a mill if the ranger district did not cut the logs into smaller chunks.

"You're throwing away a lot of logs. You've got five and 11 foot chunks," Rammel said. "This is BS right here, what you're doing. That should've never been done. Those logs will be taken out of there in pieces."

Feigley said the logs that were previously chunked were cut up that way because the equipment to haul larger pieces was unavailable at the time the effort to clear the roads to make the campground open for day use took place. She also said the district's timber management officer recommended that the logs be put into decks for the current project because it would allow for it to be completed more quickly than a timber sale and the timber could still be sold.

"If we sold it as a timber sale, we'd have to advertise it for 30 days, we'd have to allow the contractor 30 more days to bring in all the equipment and start doing the work," she said. "So some of that's their discretion as to when they start, and [the management officer] felt this was going to be a faster project and we'll still be able to sell the wood."

Feigley said in a follow-up email that dead down, live standing trees and slash will be removed. Depending on the merchantability of the trees and the amount, the decks will be sold or offered as firewood.

"The good news is, next summer it will be done and we'll have an open campground with much safer conditions," she said.

Mike Lindemer, owner of Lindey's Prime Steak House, was not present at the meeting but said his main concern with the campground's closure was Seeley Lake's ability to house tourists. After the Rice Ridge fire caused a drop in tourism last summer, Lindemer has struggled to make up for lost time.

"We were down about 50 percent for the year of 2017," he said. "Due to the fires our peak time is when the town was shut down."

Lindemer was hoping the Forest Service would be able to speed up the process of getting the campground opened earlier.

"It's the largest campground we have. I understand that they're doing what they can to keep some of it open and the boat launch open, but it's one of our huge draws for Seeley as well, to keep our community going," he said.

Despite the late opening this year, the District has secured additional funding to upgrade the boat launch and dock area at the campground before next summer. Due to the impact of last year's fires, Feigley said she advocated for additional money in order to maintain the area's high quality of recreational facilities.

"That is a big project that we got some help from the Washington office on," Feigley said. "Again, this is one of the things I was preaching. This community was hit really hard by the fires and we need to maintain a high level of recreation access and the boat launch is a key along with the campground itself so we're trying to get that stuff fixed up and launched down the road."

The updates to the boat launch area will fix the broken lane of the boat launch, add a prep lane to the approach area and put in a new, center dock instead of one that is located off to the side.

 

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