New registration system debuts at area trailheads
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Visitors to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area will find a new, mandatory registration program in effect at a number of popular trailheads this summer.
Using the new system, the U.S. Forest Service will try to better track the number of people using both the Maroon Bells-Snowmass and Holy Cross Wilderness areas, according to Jim Upchurch, Aspen district ranger.
One individual from each group using a trail will be required to fill out a registration tag, which will include a copy to be deposited in a box at the trailhead and a copy that the visitor must keep during the wilderness visit.
Users of the popular trails in the vicinity of Maroon Lake will be expected to fill out the tags, as will hikers headed for destinations like American and Cathedral lakes, Conundrum Hot Springs, Thomas Lakes, Snowmass Lake and others. The system will also be in place in the Collegiate Peaks area, at trailheads to destinations like Weller and Grizzly lakes.
In the past, visitor registration at trailheads has been strictly voluntary and hasn’t provided adequate information to accurately assess visitor use in wilderness areas, Upchurch explained.
“This will really help us in trying to figure out use patterns in the wilderness – what areas are being heavily used, which areas are being lightly used?” he said. “It’s [about] trying to figure out what’s happening out there so we can make better decisions.”
Ultimately, the goal is to protect both the wilderness resource and the experience of the visitor seeking solitude in the backcountry.
“Intuitively, there are some places that we have concerns about – American, Cathedral, Crater [lakes],” Upchurch added. “If you have a wilderness and your goal is to protect the resource, what level of use is too much?”
After two or three years, the Forest Service should have sufficient data to draw some conclusions about the level of use in various areas, but any decision to limit use won’t be made without plenty of opportunity for public input, he stressed.
“We can tell the public, this is what we’ve got. Is it acceptable, is it unacceptable, and go from there,” Upchurch said.
The program will begin June 1 and be phased in during a period of several weeks, as Forest Service crews install the new registration boxes on 28 affected trailheads. There will be no fee for the registration tags or limit on the number of times a person may use an area.
The tags will also be available at the Aspen Ranger District, at the district’s pay station on Maroon Creek Road and at the new visitor’s center at Maroon Lake, which is expected to open in mid-July.
“Our intent is to make it as user-friendly as possible,” Upchurch said.
While the registration program will be an educational process this summer, eventually there will be fines imposed for those who fail to register, he said.
The tag can be filled out quickly and attached to a pack or belt. It will seek such information as the number of people in the party, the number of days they will spend in the wilderness and their intended destination. Putting a name on the tag is optional, but it’s a good way to help rescuers track someone down if they run into trouble in the backcountry, Upchurch noted.
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