Kirkwood pushes master plan forward

As development of its valley floor moves forward -- much to the dismay of an environmental group -- officials at Kirkwood Mountain Resort believe they've struck the right balance of development that will ultimately retain the resort's character.

Going to a ski resort should not be like watching a Tennessee Volunteers football game, according to Bud Klein, a founder and principal share holder of Kirkwood.

Neyland Stadium, where the Volunteers play, seats more than 100,000, but Klein sees Kirkwood's overnight capacity peaking at less than a tenth of that number.

"I think its good for 8,000 to 9,000 people, after that...we're done," Klein said at the Oct. 12 groundbreaking of Expedition Lodge, a new luxury three to four bedroom condo complex near Kirkwood's Mountain Village.

Although David Likens, CEO for Kirkwood Mountain Resort, estimates the total number of residents on the valley floor at build out at closer to 7,000, any of these numbers is too high, according to Chris Wright, executive director for the Foothill Conservancy.

In June, the environmental group launched an unsuccessful appeal to the Amador County Board of Supervisors hoping to block the development of 33 homes in the Martin Point subdivision.

"They don't need to keep expanding," Wright said on Thursday. "Unfortunately it's hard for them to realize there's going to be a limit on how big they can get that, I think they've reached that."

Wright shudders at the idea of 7,000 residents in the valley, a number that would make Kirkwood the biggest settlement in Amador County, according to 2006 U.S. Census Bureau figures.

He cites traffic concerns and the resort's dependence on diesel engines for power as reasons for his opposition to a greater number of residents in the resort's valley.

Resort officials say day parking issues at the ski area have been addressed and talks with regional energy suppliers about getting Kirkwood connected to the power grid are underway.

Although the total number of people living in Kirkwood will increase, resort officials point to the possible expansion of lift accessed terrain at the resort as proof an expansion of the number of residents in the valley floor will not harm the area's character.

"At build out, we'll have less skiers per acre than we do now," said Gary Derck, chief executive officer for Mountain Springs Holding Company, the owner of Kirkwood, said on Oct. 15. "Our approach is a little different. The idea is keeping everything in balance."

Development could begin in 2008

El Dorado National Forest staff is nearly finished completing an Environmental Impact Statement for Kirkwood Mountain Resort's Master Plan, which could allow significant on-mountain development to begin as early as the 2008-2009 ski season.

"It is at the moment, a work in progress," said Sue Rodman, the project's manager for the U.S. Forest Service. "We're doing the devil part of the details. We hope to have it out by Thanksgiving at the latest."

Four alternatives are expected to be included in the final statement.

The alternative with the most development includes construction of a lift to the resort's summit, a new lift from the resort's Mountain Village to the back side, three surface lifts along the resort's backside ridges and a guest services building on the ridge between the front and backsides.

Approximately 700 acres of terrain within the ski area's current boundaries would be made lift accessible under the alternative.

A draft statement was released in January and contained only three options, but enough public input was received to warrant the creation of a fourth alternative in the final statement, Rodman said.

The fourth alternative does not contain a lift to Thimble Peak or the guest services building, Rodman said.

The supervisor for El Dorado National Forest will decide which alternative the resort can move forward with, according to Rodman.

Work on the surface lifts could begin as soon as spring of 2008, said David Likins, Kirkwood's chief operating officer.

Lifts to the top of Martin Point and Glove Rock, on the western side of the resort, are not being considered under the environmental impact statement and are likely to be brought before the Forest Service at a later date, Likins said on Thursday.


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