Forest Service answers questions about Boulder’s backyard

A large, lodge like building decorated with maps and pictures of nature sits in the foothills of north Boulder. No, it’s not some rich hippie’s home; it’s the Visitors’ Information Office of the Boulder District of the U.S. Forest Service.

The office’s 35 employees are responsible for managing a land base that is about 160,000 acres in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland.

“We are the part of the organization that manages the ground … We take policy and apply it to the ground,” said District Ranger Christine Walsh.

There are many different functional groups of the Forest Service including recreation, timber management, wildlife and fire organizations.

At the office, Maribeth Pecotte answers the questions of about 15 to 25 visitors per day. In the summer, between phone calls and walk-ins, Pecotte can handle as many 300 customers in a day.

“Here in Visitor Information Services, we deal with all the public’s questions, everything that people want to know about the Forest Service,” Pecotte said. “We help them find those places and opportunities.”

Pecotte says a lot of the questions she answers have to do with camping, hiking, four-wheeling and collecting fire wood.

Pecotte knows that Colorado’s weather is always changing and often times deceiving, so many of her answers help prevent people from having to snow-shoe when they wanted to go on a hike.

“Right here in Boulder, we live here and we work here and this is what we see – this hot, dry weather that looks like a great opportunity to go hiking – and if you stay down lower, it is, but if you go up high, you can still do your skiing until July,” Pecotte said.

Although there’s no snow on the ground in the city, there is plenty in the mountains. Pecotte says that the popular hiking area Brainard Lake is a perfect example. At 10,000 feet in elevation, there is still 70 inches of snow at the lake. Pecotte says she starts getting questions about the area in April, but it doesn’t actually open until June 10.

Despite the large amount of snow in the high elevations, closer to home wildfires are still a big issue.

“Certainly wildfire is a big issue these days,” Pecotte said. “We’ve had a lot of red flag days, with the high winds and low relative humidities and high temperatures. When you have conditions like that, you have a high risk of fire danger. Any ignition that starts will go big … It’s not normal this time of year to have such a high level of fire danger, usually we’re a little bit more moist right now, but it’s been so dry for the last few months, that it’s just terrible.”

When conditions are good, Pecotte encourages people to get out into nature as much as possible. She says that people can have a lot of quiet enjoyment in the wild.

“There is so much to see in our own backyard,” Pecotte said.