Virus keeps two Aspen-area campgrounds closed for summer |

Virus keeps two Aspen-area campgrounds closed for summer

Staff report
A family prepares dinner at their campsite in Difficult Campground east of Aspen last July. Difficult Campground's future is secure and the Forest Service has funds to repave the roads this summer.
Aspen Times file photo |

Two U.S. Forest Service campgrounds in the Aspen area likely will remain closed all summer because they are too remote to be regularly disinfected for coronavirus, an official said Tuesday.

Concessionaires who operate campgrounds on behalf of the Forest Service asked the agency to keep Lost Man Campground — located up Independence Pass — and Elk Wallow Campground near Meredith (above Ruedi Reservoir) closed for the season because of their locations, and the agency agreed, said Kevin Warner, district ranger for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District.

Concessionaires currently clean campground bathrooms in the Aspen area two to three times a day, Warner told Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday. In addition, most area campgrounds will only allow people with reservations to camp in order to cut down on contact with hosts during the coronavirus pandemic, he said. The exceptions are campgrounds near the Maroon Bells, which allow some flexibility for people who just show up, Warner said.

Generally, Forest Service employees are seeing an increase in recreational users this year, probably because COVID-19 has canceled beach and overseas vacations, he said. In particular, Warner said he’s noticed a lot of new RVs in the area, which has translated into many first-time forest visitors and numerous violations of standard outdoor rules and regulations.

The Forest Service has increased patrols to combat the lack of compliance by newbies, he said.

The patrols also will be on the lookout for fires, which are currently only allowed in developed campgrounds in Pitkin County and the White River National Forest, Warner said.

Forest Service officials are gearing up for a dry summer in which the short-term forecast looks to involve higher-than-normal temperatures and below-average precipitation. The monsoonal flow from the Gulf of Mexico has not yet developed and may not develop, he said, which increases fire danger.

Most of the county, BLM and forest lands in the Aspen area and western Colorado are in Stage 1 fire restrictions.

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