Closure of Crater Lake camps for bear issues altered camping patterns
Camping restrictions at and around Crater Lake effectively ended conflicts between humans and bears this summer, but they also spread wear and tear in the backcountry, according to a Forest Service official.
The Forest Service closed 11 campsites at Crater Lake in the shadow of the Maroon Bells in August after at least six incidents in which bears tried to snag unattended food over one weekend.
The White River National Forest also approved a special order that required campers in the West Maroon Valley and Minnehaha Gulch to store food and trash in bear-resistant canisters.
Backpackers who couldn’t comply with the requirements have adjusted their plans and camped in greater numbers elsewhere in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, according to Andrew Larson, lead wilderness ranger with the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District.
More backpackers than usual popped over West Maroon Pass and camped south of the summit, Larson said. They were often backpackers who were early in a clockwise trek around the famed Four Pass Loop, he said.
Similarly, backpackers traveling the loop counterclockwise popped over Buckskin Pass and camped there in larger numbers than previously seen, he said.
Less ambitious backpackers who intended to make Crater Lake their destination often opted for Willow Lake, a high-elevation beauty that requires a short but strenuous hike up Willow Pass.
Larson said the increased camping at those three areas brought some environmental degradation, such as all available wood scavenged for campfires and other wear and tear. He said Forest Service officials realized campers would be pushed in greater numbers to other areas when the Crater Lake campsites were closed and canisters were required in the areas more easily accessible from the Maroon Lake trailhead.
“It was just sort of collateral damage,” he lamented.
The actions were necessary because of the threat of a bear harming a person camping at the Crater Lake area, he said.
The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District is starting discussions on whether or not to expand the requirement for bear-resistant canisters.
“We don’t want to solve it piecemeal,” Larson said.
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