The secret is out. Many Colorado wilderness areas are experiencing record crowds, and forest rangers are concerned with the damage left behind.
One of the most unspoiled spots in the state is the Conundrum Hot Springs in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. However, overnight visitation to the area has increased 115 percent since 2007. And forest rangers say that those visitors are becoming increasingly less respectful to their surroundings.
“We have been monitoring and collecting visitor use data in the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness for many years,” stated Kay Hopkins, recreation planner for the White River National Forest, in a news release. “Every year visitation is record setting and every year we are seeing more resource damage and in general a lack of ethical behavior from visitors.”
The crowds have prompted a need for a management plan, the Forest Service announced Thursday, and they are asking the public for help.
The Forest Service says that the impacts from increased overnight visitation effect the landscape, the visitor experience and land managers’ ability to effectively keep up with the use. Rangers are seeing increased trash, tree cutting/fire scars, human waste and proliferation.
Educating the public on preserving the natural beauty of White River National Forest has been a priority for rangers for more than twenty years. However, despite the education efforts, rangers say degradation is still occurring.
“It’s no secret that declining budgets and staff capacity are a challenge for the Forest,” stated Scott Fitzwilliam’s, Forest Supervisor. “In the case of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, we don’t have the capacity to keep up with the increase in overnight use and the resulting degradation. The proposed plan gives us a framework to make appropriate management decisions for the future.”
The proposed management plan will target overnight visitors within the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area. It would define a specific number of groups at one time in defined camping zones. If the number of groups exceeds a certain level, a mandatory overnight permit system may be implemented.
A public meeting will be held to discuss this plan and other at the Basalt Library Nov. 15 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.