Forest visitors need to learn the idea of ‘Leave No Trace’
July 21, 2006
Dan Kitchen thought he found an ideal situation last weekend when he scored the first campsite in the national forest past the pavement on Castle Creek Road. Instead it morphed into a nightmare.Kitchen said two young men told him late in the evening that about 50 of their friends were heading up for a party in the open ground next to his campsite. They politely suggested that if that didn’t sound like his idea of fun, he might want to leave.Kitchen said he stayed in large part because he had too much gear to pack up before dark but also because of the injustice of it all. Why should he leave when he was there first?The party unfolded, complete with an illegal fire, lots of cold beer, psychedelic drugs, and hooting and hollering throughout the night, according to Kitchen. It broke up only when the survivors had to head into work in Aspen. Kitchen avoided confrontation but took some pictures of the environmental hangover the party wrought. While some of the partygoers hauled off some trash, they also left behind a great deal, he said.Kitchen complained to a couple of rangers at the Aspen district but learned there was virtually nothing they could do. Groups of less than 70 don’t need a special permit to gather in the national forest even if they do need a lesson in manners, according to Aspen District Ranger Bill Westbrook.Parties are always an issue on forest lands around the Roaring Fork Valley, Westbrook said. The same night that spirits soared in upper Castle Creek, a party that raged on Basalt Mountain created the same results: an illegal fire and loads of garbage.Westbrook was selective about his assessment of the parties. He certainly didn’t condone them, but he didn’t condemn them, either. His issue is leaving the national forest in the same shape the partiers find it. In both cases, Forest Service crews needed to go to the sites to remove the trash.”It’s pretty constant,” Westbrook said. “That’s pretty hard on us because we don’t have sacks of money laying around.”A kegger up at the Grottos day-use area created even bigger budget implications. Partiers recently used a new split-rail fence for firewood. The Forest Service not only had to clean the mess, it had to replace its fence.It’s not just folks in their late teens and early 20s that are created the problems. It seems some residents and visitors of the Roaring Fork Valley have a strange way of showing their appreciation of the national forest.Westbrook said crews in the Aspen Sopris District have spotted five refrigerators and freezers that have to be removed from public lands. The agency will also have to eat up funds to have coolant properly removed. Three junked cars that the agency must remove also present a financial burden.The problem extended beyond big glaring violations. Westbrook said it always surprises him how much litter ends up along trails and backcountry campsites in a place like Aspen, which prides itself on its environmental awareness. It’s a much bigger problem than at the Medicine Bow National Forest in Saratoga, Wyo., where he came from five years ago.”There is just more dumping around here,” Westbrook said. “Maybe it’s just the sheer amount of people.”Whatever the reason, he urged forest visitors to reacquaint themselves with the “Leave No Trace” principle of removing whatever they take into the national forest.Westbrook stressed that a relative few forest visitors create the problem. Many people pack their garbage out.Scott Condon’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.