Forest Service to keep Burgess Junction closed as visitor center

Bighorn National Forest officials updated the commissioners on their Greybull building project, Burgess Junction visitor center and more at the Feb. 18 commissioner meeting.

The commissioners welcomed “future Greybull citizens” Bighorn National Forest Supervisor Bill Bass and Medicine Wheel/Paintrock District Ranger Dave Hogan. The comment was in reference to the Forest Service’s decision to relocate the Medicine Wheel/Paintrock District office from Lovell to Greybull. Hogan said the decision puts the ranger district all under one roof. He said they received bids from Lovell and Greybull, but the lowest bid and the one that technically met all specifications was the one from LG2 Development out of Colorado on property near Murdoch Oil.

The best case scenario is that the office will open in February or March 2015. “We’re curious about the type of travel and traffic we’ll see at the new location. We think it’s a pretty good spot for a visual presence, but it’s definitely impacting a lot of folks in my office.” He said most employees won’t change living arrangements and will figure out commuting.

There are 28 employees in the district, which includes eight hotshots.

Hogan said the large building will have a nice conference room and be similar to the Big Horn County Weed and Pest facility.

Bass said there is a protest regarding the bid award at this time. “We’re not privy to who has protested, but it should be winding up before March 15,” he said.

Burgess Junction

Hogan said they are looking at options to reopen the Burgess Junction Visitor Center, which was closed due to financial constraints.

He said they’ve reached out to some people and some business owners with businesses in the Forest about using the facility.

“It will stay closed as a visitor center,” Hogan said, noting that recreationists hope it will reopen as some type of business.

Bass said the Forest Service could issue a permit to have the facility run as a separate business but with some type of affiliation with the Forest Service in order to have the restrooms open as public restrooms.

“We’ll be issuing a prospectus this spring to see what type of interest is out there,” Hogan said.

Bass added, “The longer we let the building sit the more problems we will have with deferred maintenance and rodents.”

Hogan and Bass said their intention is to keep the Shell Falls Visitor Center up and running because of its premiere site with a geographical feature.

Commission Chairman Jerry Ewen asked if the Forest Service could keep Shell Falls open through the hunting season, at least the parking lot, saying, “People still want to look at the falls and they park on the side of the highway and it’s dangerous.”

Hogan and Bass said it is something they could consider.

Resource Advisory    Council

Bass reported that it is time to renew the Big Horn County Resource Advisory Council. Thanks to funding through the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, Big Horn County receives funds each year that can be used on recreation projects on the national forest. A 15-member Resource Advisory Committee (RAC) was formed to determine which projects would be funded. Groups can submit applications for funding.

Bass said the Secure Rural Schools Act has been extended again, but the council has to be “rechartered.” He said seven of the 15 members have already said they would serve again. The council must be renewed every two years.

Bass and Hogan said the process has been good as they’ve been able to meet new folks from Big Horn County and work with them. Bass said it’s been healthy to gain a different perspective on projects.

Powerlines

Bass said they’ve also met with officials from Big Horn Rural Electric, wanting to extend their right-of-way. He said they have 80 miles of line in the forest and expanding the right-of-way would require cultural and environmental analysis.

“They are very concerned about liability,” Bass said, noting that one of the wildfires in the country last year started with a tree falling on a power line.

Bass said they are looking for options to assist REA, but any option would still require a vegetation analysis, with a cost of $20,000 to $50,000 just for the documentation.

By KARLA POMEROY

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