Lee Canyon ski area, about 30 miles northwest of Las Vegas, has proposed a major expansion that's entering its final phase for gaining approval.
Because the resort is located in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, operators have a special use permit with the U.S. Forest Service. That means they have to go through the same review process as required on other public lands.
In November, the Forest Service released the project's final environmental impact statement. Following a review of any objections filed before the deadline this month, forest service officials will make a recommendation on the project.
While the plan wouldn't extend resort facilities beyond the 785-acre area covered by the special-use permit, it would add two chair lifts, 23 ski runs, mountain bike trails, a mountain coaster, a zipline, and several other amenities.
Some of these would be built on previously undisturbed land, and the entire project is aimed at accommodating more visitors year-round. That means a potential impact on the area's residents and wildlife.
One species of particular interest is the Mt. Charleston blue butterfly. The tiny butterfly is only found on Mt. Charleston.
Despite the concern, Jim Seely, director of marketing for Lee Canyon ski resort, said the butterfly is not currently found in the area they're looking to develop.
“It can’t damage something that is not there yet,” he said.
Seely said if the development goes forward and the vegetation that attracts the butterfly grows there and attracts the insect, then they can talk about making sure it is protected.
“The 50 percent canopy that the vegetation needs for the Mt. Charleston blue butterfly, the trails will actually help grow that habitat,” he said.
Seely said so far they have not heard about any groups launching any objections to the plan.
During a public comment section of the process, the biggest concern was that the area would be turned into something more commercial.
“We’re not looking to turn Lee Canyon in some kind of spectacle or anything," Seely said, "We’re a place for outdoor recreation and for those to enjoy nature.”
He said the Lee Canyon owners view themselves as protectors of the land.
“We basically look at ourselves as stewards of outdoor recreation and the Spring Mountains," he said, "We definitely want to share that healthy lifestyle with everyone in Las Vegas.”
Anyone who has driven up Lee Canyon either to go skiing or just to play in the snow knows it can get crowded with people parking along the narrow road.
Seely said one of the first items on the list of improvements - if approved by the Forest Service - will be an expanded parking lot, which he believes will help alleviate some of the traffic and parking problems.
Lee Canyon owners hope to get final approval soon and possibly start working on the new parking lot, trails and lifts this summer.
(Editor's Note: We contacted the Forest Service and a scientist who studies the Mt. Charleston blue butterfly but both declined to be part of the discussion.)
Jim Seely, director of marketing, Lee Canyon ski resort
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