The White River National Forest’s newest visitors center officially opens Tuesday. The Forest Service moved the center from Aspen to Highlands to make visits more convenient for the public, and to save money.
On Friday visitor information specialist Mateo Sandete was putting finishing touches on interpretive signs. Visitors trickled in over Memorial Day weekend for a soft opening. Sandete says the new location is advantageous given the nearby Maroon Bells.
"We’re the gateway to the Maroon Bells, right here. So, we’re hoping to reach and outreach to a lot of visitors coming up to the Forest and eventually the Maroon Bells."
The information center is in the Highlands ticket office so trail brochures have replaced ski area maps. The forest service will move out in the fall. Use of the space is thanks to a partnership with the Aspen Skiing Company and the Forest Conservancy.
"This summer, this is just a beta test to see if another location might work out just as well, or better, especially working with partners," says Heather Provencio, Deputy Forest Supervisor.
She says the move will save the Forest Service money on utility bills and staffing. The agency is grappling with an increasingly tight budget.
"Instead of spending our budget on leases and utilities, we’d like to focus on making a difference on the ground," says Provencio.
The old visitors information center on West Hallam Street in Aspen will be a work station this summer. It may be rebuilt in the future to provide visitors services again.