Don’t let cherished springs go to waste
If the city of Aspen planned to paint the Wheeler Opera House pink, Aspen would rise up in opposition.
If a developer wanted to raze the Hotel Jerome and replace it with an office building, Aspen would pitch a historic fit.
Decades ago, Aspenites opposed the idea of a restaurant atop Shadow Mountain and, more recently, they forced the U.S. Forest Service to drastically shrink an oversized visitor center at Maroon Lake.
We love and protect our treasures, both natural and man-made.
So it’s incumbent on all of us who enjoy the Conundrum Hot Springs to clean up our act when we visit the beloved pools high in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
Conundrum Hot Springs, like so many other natural wonders, are falling victim to over-visitation. It’s not that too many people are bathing there, or that the wilderness quality of the experience has been diminished, although many would argue that both of those statements are true. Rather, the problem is simple and literal: Too much human poop.
That’s right ” the concentration of campers near the springs has resulted in “partially unburied solid waste” in most of the nearby campsites, and the springs themselves have tested positive for fecal chloroform.
The “healing waters” are turning into a health hazard.
It goes without saying that we need to do better. Obviously, Aspenites aren’t the only ones using the well-known hot springs ” the most-heavily visited overnight wilderness destination in the area ” but we should be the first to change our behavior to protect a local gem.
The Forest Service, which administers the Maroon Bells wilderness, has decided to provide bags for hikers at the Conundrum Creek trailhead; officials hope that most hot springs visitors will use the bags to “pack out” their poop. This idea, no doubt, will be a stretch for many backcountry users; nobody likes the idea of putting their own feces in a bag, let alone hauling it on their back for 8 miles. And we’ll admit that poop-packing takes some of the charm out of a backcountry excursion.
Fundamentally, however, this is no different than learning to recycle our trash or conserve water. When too many people do an apparently benign thing ” like idly taking 15-minute showers or sending piles of throwaways to the landfill ” then it’s no longer benign.
Roughly 2,000 people visit the Conundrum Hot Springs each year, and that makes for a lot of fecal matter in a sensitive spot. The high-country hiking season is rapidly approaching, so let’s cowboy up and pack it out.