Vandals cripple backcountry permit program |

Vandals cripple backcountry permit program

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The new mandatory registration program in effect at various trailheads in the Maroon-Bells Snowmass Wilderness Area has been vandalized this summer, hampering the U.S. Forest Service’s effort to keep better track of wilderness use.

Boxes erected at some trailheads have been taken or destroyed, and hundreds of the registration tags, or permits, provided at the sites for trail users have been stolen, according to Tim Lamb, forestry technician with the Aspen Ranger District.

Experiencing an unexpected shortage of the permit tags as a result, the agency has actually removed some of the registration stations because they don’t have enough of the tags to keep them stocked, he said.

“We’ve had a lot of theft of permits, a lot of sabotage to the system, a lot of removing of the boxes,” he said.

The Forest Service initiated the mandatory registration on 28 trailheads in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness this summer; hikers will also encounter the program in the Holy Cross Wilderness.

The boxes contain a tag, called a Wilderness Use Permit, which one individual from each group using a trail is required to fill out with information such as the dates they’ll be in the wilderness, the number of nights they’ll be out, their destination, number of people in their party, number of dogs and the name and address of the party leader.

The white, paper copy of the tag is to be deposited in the box at the trailhead; the tag underneath is to be affixed to a belt or pack and kept with the party during their wilderness visit.

Some people have had difficulty figuring out the system – either leaving both copies of the permit at the trailhead, taking both copies or leaving the tag and taking the paper copy that is supposed to be deposited in a slot in the box, Lamb said.

Hikers may be more confused when they get to a box that contains no permits, because they’ve all been stolen, or find the box has been filled with a spray insulation that then hardens in the box – one tactic employed by the vandal or vandals, according to Lamb.

The Forest Service never experienced that kind of vandalism with its old, volunteer trail-registration system, he added.

Six boxes have been vandalized and large quantities of permits have been stolen at about 15 sites, Lamb said.

The back of the permit tag outlines wilderness restrictions, which Forest Service officials hope will aid in reminding users of regulations regarding campfires, placement of campsites and such. The agency is also hoping the permit system will give a better idea of use patterns in the wilderness, which could ultimately shape its management decisions, said Jim Upchurch, former Aspen District ranger, when the program was initiated earlier this summer.

There is no fee for the permit and no limit on permits or access to the wilderness, but some users may fear those steps are coming, Lamb theorized.

“People may see this permit system as the first domino in a series of dominoes leading to fees or restrictions or something,” he said.

Lamb, however, expressed doubt that a clampdown on access to the wilderness is coming. It would be difficult to enforce, given the Forest Service’s staffing and the huge number of entry points into the wilderness, he said.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is]

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