The backcountry boom |

The backcountry boom

Aspen has been an outdoor enthusiasts’ mecca for decades. Locals and visitors have long enjoyed hiking the Maroon Bells and fishing the Roaring Fork River, but today these destinations, along with others in Colorado’s high country, are seeing more people and more pressure than ever before. It seems everyone wants to ride bikes and motorcycles deeper into the backcountry or scale the highest peaks. Around recreational hot spots like Aspen, Glenwood Springs, Vail and Breckenridge, U.S. Forest Service officials now handle thousands more recreational “users” than loggers and grazing lessees.

The Aspen Times decided this summer to take a look at the outdoor recreation boom and its economic and environmental effects. In the process, we discovered a few interesting things.

For example, though many locals blame tourists for crowded trails and peaks, Forest Service officials say the bulk of the rising pressure comes from locals. And though certain trails and fourteeners draw hordes of visitors, the vast majority of the 2.3 million-acre White River National Forest remains fairly quiet and unvisited.

On the economic side, outdoor activities beyond skiing now play a pivotal role in mountain town economies. In addition to outdoor retail shops, resort town visitors who want to fish, bike, raft, paraglide or bump through the high country in a jeep can rent equipment or purchase guided tours. The choices abound. Towns like Vail, Aspen and Silverthorne now specifically track sales tax receipts from outdoor activities, just as they monitor economic mainstays like lodging and food.

The great outdoors is no longer just a lifestyle; it’s an industry. And that has changed life in the mountains of Colorado. Here is our look at the meaning and implications of the backcountry boom.

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