The White River National Forest
Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.
The White River National Forest is the very prototype of a New West forest. The Forest Service estimates that 34,000 people make their living from the forest, though that far underestimates its value. The forest is a huge backyard for those who live along its edge, and it's the first big mountain playground for metropolitan Denver and Boulder's 2.5 million residents.
From the Eisenhower Tunnel, where Interstate 70 pierces the Continental Divide about an hour west of Denver, you can drive more than three and a half hours while always staying within sight of the White River Forest. Along the way you might glimpse one or more of its 10 peaks that pierce 14,000 feet. The airport at Eagle, which serves the Vail area, has boomed to the state's third busiest, after Denver International and Colorado Springs.
The largest concentration of ski lifts outside of Europe's Alps is found here; so is the nation's largest elk herd, which numbers 20,000 (30,000 in summers on the flat tops). Counties in which the forest is located rank among the country's top dozen in several statistical slots: highest per capita income, percentage of women in the workforce, education and median price of single-family homes.