Survey will see if Aspen-area forest has exceeded 12.3 million annual visits
A BUSY PLACE
A 2011 survey showed the White River National Forest annually hosts 12.3 million visits for recreation, making it the most popular national forest in the country. New Visitor Use Monitoring Surveys will check the new numbers.
Five years after a visitor survey confirmed the national forest surrounding Aspen and the rest of the Roaring Fork Valley was the busiest in the country for recreation, the U.S. Forest Service is checking the numbers again.
The agency will start conducting its visitor-use-monitoring surveys on Oct. 7 and continue through September 2017. The Forest Service will pick random sites such as trailheads, campgrounds and day-use areas throughout the entire White River National Forest and ask people to help with the survey.
Interviewers will ask people about the length of their stay, primary reasons for the visit and their experience. About every fifth person will be asked additional socioeconomic questions. Participation is voluntary.
The use study is updated nationally every five years on a rotating basis. Locally, it will determine if the White River National Forest topped the 12.3 million visits logged in 2011 and how uses are evolving, said Kay Hopkins, outdoor recreation planner for the White River National Forest.
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For example, the latest survey could show an increase in backcountry winter recreation and reflect the new emphasis by ski areas to attract more summer business with amenities such as alpine slides and lift-served downhill mountain-bike parks.
Some observers contend that the White River’s visits are inflated because of the 11 ski areas that use national forest lands, but Hopkins said use is high even without downhill skiing.
“Over 6 million of those visits are not skier visits,” she said.
The results of the survey will help the Forest Service determine how to use its limited dollars to best serve visitors. The federal government also uses the results to help with budget allocation, according to Hopkins. The results also paint a picture of the national forest visits benefiting nearby towns and cities.
So, if a friendly person wearing an orange vest approaches you and wants to talk in the national forest, don’t be alarmed. The interviewers will be standing near signs that say “traffic survey ahead.” The typical interview is about eight minutes long. Results are confidential.
Hopkins said a contractor was hired to conduct this year’s survey. Forest Service personnel conducted prior surveys in the White River.
It’s a scientific survey. The White River team created an inventory of all sites and facilities where they were rated as high, medium or low use. Sites were selected at random from within each category for the surveys.
The forest also will factor in visits to ski area and other resorts located on forestlands. Temporary trail counters will be placed at randomly selected trails.
“It all gets blended in,” Hopkins said of the data collection.
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The coronavirus threat delayed the opening of developed campgrounds in the Roaring Fork, Fryingpan and Crystal valleys. The Forest Service will phase them back in by June 12.