The EagleVail chairlift to Beaver Creek was not accepted by the Forest Service.
A chairlift has been discussed since the 60’s in EagleVail.
From Vail Daily and Aspen Times
The Forest Service and Vail Resorts have cited wildlife impacts to deny building a chairlift connecting EagleVail to Beaver Creek.
Aaron Mayville, district ranger for the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District has written to Steve Barber, EagleVail Metro District Manager that “a chairlift from EagleVail, across National Forest and into Beaver Creek is not possible right now.”
And Vail Resorts Executive Vice President, Mountain Division has also written to Barber stating that “we are not interested in discussions regarding a lift from EagleVail to Beaver Creek at this point.”
The officials of EagleVail were interested in a lift as EagleVail residents also were, as it helps increasing property values as a boon for homeowners and a catalyst for renewal.
Vail Resorts owns and operates Beaver Creek Resort.
David Warner, VP of EagleVail Metro District board and longtime proponent of the lift said: “It’s definitely a setback; these were not good letters.”
A lift of U$D 5.2 million
The lift was envisioned to stretch from the current location of the driving range of the EagleVail Golf Club up to Allie’s Cabin or Rose Bowl.
The proponents believe they had been backed up by Vail Resorts about this lift idea in 2016. A chairlift has been discussed in EagleVail since its inception in the ‘60s.
Even before Beaver Creek was built, there was a plan considered to connect EagleVail with the old Meadow Mountain Ski Area.
Warner said he received a bid for U$D 5.2 million from a lift company to build a 11,250-foot-long lift from the driving range to Rose Bowl. People favouring this envisioned asking voters to get an additional sales tax or using revenue from the tax passed in 2018 to finance the construction and operation of the lift.
The Property Owners Association board’s members came to a Metro District meeting in April asking the Metro Board for its blessing to conduct a U$D 15,000 study that would examine if there were ‘fatal flaws’ in the lift plan.
But then the Members of the Metro District suggested to just reach out to the Forest Service and Vail Resorts to see if they support the concept, and the answer was a resounding “no.”
Protection of wildlife, mainly the elk herd.
Mayville wrote in the May 4 email that ‘the entire hillside above EagleVail is an ‘elk refuge’ of sorts – when Beaver Creek was built, (a memorandum of understanding) was signed between the Forest Service, Division of Wildlife, Vail Associates, and others to set aside the area for the protection of wildlife (mainly the elk herd).”
Mayville cited a larger conversation in the community about dwindling wildlife. The county’s elk count is down by 50 percent from numbers in 2003, as per Colorado Parks and Wildlife said last year. During the past 20 years, the local elk figures have declined 40%. Wildlife officials say that there are lots of factors for this decline, but they pointed that human encroachment as a reason – including recreation and development.
Even in the 1988 EagleVail chairlift study, the Colorado Division of Wildlife cited they had concerns over elk protections, and the agency could not give a favourable review.
Mayville said that his staff already has too much on its plate with current initiatives. In a recent interview, he said that “for now, given the wildlife concerns in the community, given the Vail Resorts lack of interest and Forest Service lack of bandwidth, this is not something we are going to be entertaining.”
Jarnot said also that Vail Resorts explored the idea of a lift some years ago after inquiries from EagleVail Metro District, but once the company learned of the elk protections established when Beaver Creek was developed, it agreed with the Forest Service and the Division of Wildlife not to pursue more development in the area.
Jarnot said in a statement, “we aren’t willing to invest more time and resources to further pursue the idea given the extremely high likelihood that there is no chance it will ever happen.”
The ‘heart and soul’ of EagleVail
Some members of the EagleVail Metro District board expressed concerns about the costs of the project; the impacts such as traffic and parking; and even the potential negative side effects of rising property values for the community.
At the April meeting, board secretary Ken McCann noted that he’s an avid skier, but voiced concerns about how a lift would impact the “heart and soul” of EagleVail.
“I’m an advocate for community,” McCann said. “If it would in any way impact our community negatively, such as driving up the cost of rent, driving up home prices, driving people out of EagleVail, I would be against it.”
The Metro District is a quasi-governmental entity that operates and maintains community facilities such as the golf courses, pool, EagleVail pavilion, athletic fields and trails. It also provides services that enhance streets, safety and transportation.
A trail has been approved in the area
Mayville and Jarnot both offered to meet with EagleVail officials to discuss further. EagleVail plans to take them up on the offers.
“We will still have the meetings, but I’m not particularly encouraged,” Warner said.
Warner questioned why a new trail in the area, the Everkrisp trail, was approved by the Forest Service in light of the wildlife concerns.
“How do you explain a bike trail bisecting this migration path in half with actual human beings that’s less damaging than 12 lift towers that will stand there all year?” Warner said at the May Metro District board meeting.
Mayville pointed to stipulations in the Everkrisp trail approvals that mandated trail closures during the winter and spring.
“The biggest wildlife concern in that area is winter range,” Mayville said. “We were able to put a winter closure on the Everkrisp trail. That’s why maintaining that closure is so important.”
A window of opportunity?
Warner ran for the board in 2015 with a platform that included researching a chairlift link between the neighbourhood and the ski mountain. He saw the lift as a catalyst for spurring revitalisation in EagleVail — similar to what Coors Field did for LoDo in Denver.
“My idea of the lift was more to spur economic growth and revitalize EagleVail — more than just a lift going to Beaver Creek,” Warner said.
Warner said that three years ago, Vail Resorts officials were encouraging EagleVail to continue with planning for the chairlift. Warner, in turn, participated in public meetings explaining the chairlift to the community and various stakeholders.
But in 2016, a proposed sales tax hike of up to 2.9% that could have financed a chairlift failed, striking a blow to the forward progress of the concept.
A 1 percent sales tax was passed two years later, but, at the time, officials said it would not cover the cost to fund a ski lift. The 2018 tax was intended to fund projects such as streets, trails, sidewalks and bus service.
“We got the opportunity,” Warner said. “We lost that vote (in 2016) — it was really close — and here we are in 2019.”
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Featured Image: Beaver Creek photo: Jack Affleck. Vail Resorts. The EagleVail chairlift to Beaver Creek was not accepted by the Forest Service.