Forest Service will hold open house Tuesday on camping limit plan | AspenTimes.com

Forest Service will hold open house Tuesday on camping limit plan

Staff report

Wilderness rangers took this photo of illegal camping in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Tents often get erected too close to trails, lakes and streams, according to the White River National Forest staff.

The White River National Forest's groundbreaking proposal to put a management plan in place to limit camping in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness will be presented to the public Tuesday.

The U.S. Forest Service will hold an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Basalt Regional Library. Forest Service personnel will set up stations featuring displays with maps and figures from the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Overnight Visitor Use Management Plan.

Kate Jerman, public affairs officer with the White River National Forest, said Forest Service workers will share photos of wilderness conditions over the last three years to give people attending the meeting an idea of the degradation witnessed by Forest Service personnel.

The plan is available online at http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=49388.

Jerman said the open house is the public's opportunity to asked questions about the plan. The agency is looking for public input on issues that were overlooked, what they like and don't like about the plan, she said.

People will have the option of commenting at the meeting or they will receive instructions on how to submit comments.

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"The Plan is subject to change based on these comments, so public input is essential at this point in the process," Jerman said in an email.

The Forest Service anticipates releasing a draft Environmental Assessment in the spring of 2017, which will be followed by additional public meetings and formal comment periods.

The White River National Forest announced Nov. 3 it wants to put an adaptable management plan in place to set standards for how many people can camp overnight in different zones of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, popular backcountry west and southwest of Aspen. The 181,535-acre wilderness area includes the iconic Maroon Bells as well as Pyramid Peak, Capitol Peak and popular destinations such as the Conundrum Hot Springs and Snowmass Lake. The Four Pass Loop attracts backpackers from around the world.

Some of those hotspots are drawing more attention than the ecosystem can handle, according to the Forest Service.

"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," said Kay Hopkins, recreation planner for the White River National Forest.

If the demand for camping exceeds the standard, the plan creates a path for the Forest Service to manage use through tools such as permits.

IF YOU GO

What: Open house on Maroon Bells-Snowmass overnight visitor management plan

Where: Basalt Regional Library

When: Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m.

Cost: Free for the public