Bears, campers having Difficulties | AspenTimes.com

Bears, campers having Difficulties

John Colson

Part of Difficult Campground east of Aspen is now closed to tents and soft-sided campers due to increased bear sightings. Mark Fox/The Aspen Times

A fear of marauding bears has led to the partial closure of Difficult Campground, one of the Aspen area’s more popular outdoor recreation spots.Maribeth Gustafson, White River National Forest supervisor, issued the closure order Friday.Tents, pop-up trailers where soft sides are lower than 5 feet off the ground and any other camping shelter that is not “rigid-sided or hard-shelled” are banned in the campground.In addition, those who continue to camp at Difficult are now required to keep all food, cooking equipment and cooking utensils in bear-proof containers or inside closed and locked vehicles in sealed containers.Violations are punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for a corporation, imprisonment up to 6 months or both.”We think there’s probably three or four bears going in up there,” said, Bill Westbrook, who heads the Aspen Ranger District office.He said that even as his rangers posted the partial closure notice Friday, a young bear showed up to forage in the trash bins and had to be chased away.The incidents have been going on for weeks, Westbrook said, and have involved everything from overturned Dumpsters to broken windows in vehicles, prompting the closure for public safety reasons.He said other area campgrounds, including those higher up Independence Pass, as well as up at Ruedi Reservoir and up the Crystal River Valley, have had bear sightings but no similar level of invasions as have occurred at Difficult.He said the concessionaire company that runs the campground, Thousand Trails, is working on a system to refund reservation fees for campers. Those with camping reservations for the coming weeks will be notified and will be placed in other, nearby campgrounds whenever possible.The campground managers, who declined to give their names, said that only “a couple of people have been upset” at having to vacate the campground because of the new regulation. They also reported that a young bear was caught, tagged and relocated from Difficult recently. There were no sightings over the weekend.Gustafson said she is hoping the partial closure at Difficult will be lifted in a couple of weeks. “If [the bears] can’t get anything and they’ll move on,” she said.For Texans John and Eleanor Alexander, who have been camping at Difficult for years in a hard-sided trailer, it’s all something to be taken in stride.”We’ll just be careful,” said John. “Everybody else probably thinks it’s a bigger deal than we do.”The Alexanders, who are from Beaumont, said they got here Friday, the day the closure was announced. They made their reservations in April or May, and plan on leaving in a few days and then coming back, bouncing back and forth between home and Difficult this summer.Joe DiGangi of Santa Fe, N.M., said he is not worried about bears getting into his RV, but added, “I wouldn’t want to camp in a tent around here.”And Bob Yakely, a doctor from Denver who also camps in a hard-sided trailer, said he was called on to treat a camper who was mauled by a bear in Glacier National Park a couple of years ago, an experience he did not relish repeating.John Colson’s e-mail is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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