Grottos trash plan could draw bears |

Grottos trash plan could draw bears

Jeremy Heiman

Trash cans at the Grottos, a popular National Forest day-use recreation area southeast of Aspen, would provide an enticing smorgasbord for any bear that should happen by.

A local wildlife advocate has complained that the containers pose a threat to bears, which often have to be destroyed after becoming accustomed to human food and garbage. But a Forest Service representative says the trash cans may have been necessary because of consistent heavy littering at the popular National Forest recreation site.

The trash cans, two standard 30-gallon galvanized items, were placed at the Grottos area early this summer by Rocky Mountain Recreation Company, said Andy Steele, a Forest Service recreation specialist. RMR is the contractor that maintains several National Forest day-use areas and campgrounds in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Steele said RMR put out the trash cans on their own, and he conceded that it would be better to have a bear-proof container. “We don’t have bears there now,” Steele said, “but we could have.”

Wildlife advocate Dan Kitchen said having trash cans is a really bad idea.

“What’s the problem with problem bears?” Kitchen asked. “It’s trash.”

When we read about Colorado Division of Wildlife officers having to kill a problem bear, he said, it’s always the result of a “people problem.” The bears that run into trouble have always learned to forage for food in the human environment, whether from dog-food bowls and bird feeders or from trash.

“There’s always animals drawn to the scent,” Kitchen said. “There’s raccoons and skunks, and pretty soon there’ll be a bear.”

Before Rocky Mountain Recreation made the decision to add the trash cans, Steele said, Forest Service officials didn’t make any provision for trash at the site, except by placing signs that asked visitors to take their trash with them.

“We did have a pack-it-in and pack-it-out policy there, because we can’t afford to carry it out,” Steele said. Congress has repeatedly cut operating funds for the U.S. Forest Service in recent years, and the agency has been forced to cut staffing and use private contractors supported by user fees to maintain some recreation sites.

Bear-proof containers aren’t legally required at the Grottos by either Pitkin County or the Forest Service, at present. Lance Clarke, the county’s deputy director of planning, said the county can impose the requirement that trash containers be bear-proof only when approving new land-use applications.

“We don’t have any general legislation that requires those,” Clarke said.

Rocky Mountain Recreation personnel weren’t available for comment, but Steele said the company added the trash cans because trash was regularly deposited on the ground at the Grottos.

“They brought in the trash cans because the public won’t clean up after themselves,” Steele said. He said Rocky Mountain Recreation empties the trash and cleans the toilets twice a day at the Grottos.

But Kitchen said Friday he had been to the Grottos five evenings out of the last 10 days, and the trash cans didn’t appear to have been emptied. Thursday evening, they were overflowing onto the ground, and birds were eating from the mess. He said he thought that, up until Friday, the trash cans hadn’t been emptied since before the July 4th weekend.

On Friday, the trash had been emptied, and two more trash cans had been added.

“Now, more lazy, dumb people can leave their trash there,” Kitchen said.

More people are visiting the Grottos in recent years, despite efforts by locals to keep the area a secret.

“The Grottos is a heavily used and heavily abused area,” Steele said. Although the area is closed at night, evidence of night parties is frequently found, he said. Large quantities of beer cans and the ashes remaining from bonfires are often seen there in the morning. And worse.

“This spring we found six hypodermic needles there,” Steele said. “That’s a serious threat to the people who work there.”

In June, a map display at the Grottos was “horribly vandalized,” Steele said. Pitkin County deputies patrol the area, he said.

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