Wilderness camping restriction plan draws reaction from around state, but little from Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Wilderness camping restriction plan draws reaction from around state, but little from Aspen

The White River National Forest's plan to limit camping in overused parts of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness is gaining support from people throughout Colorado but, for whatever reason, hasn't attracted much attention in the Roaring Fork Valley.

A well-publicized open house held by the U.S. Forest Service staff in Basalt on Tuesday attracted only 10 people, according to Kay Hopkins, recreation planner for the White River National Forest.

In addition, residents of Aspen or other parts of the Roaring Fork Valley have submitted very few comments even though the comment period is dwindling down. The deadline is Dec. 5.

One reason for the apparent lack of interest might be the outreach the Forest Service did prior to releasing its proposed Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Overnight Use Management Plan.

Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Karen Schroyer and her staff held a handful of public meetings that were well-attended last year. Attendees supported implementing limits on the numbers of campers in places like Conundrum Hot Springs and the Four Pass Loop to slow the rate of environmental degradation.

One thing is apparent — the lack of comment isn't from lack of interest in the wilderness area southwest of Aspen. Overnight use on the top 10 trails in the wilderness has soared 115 percent in nine years, Hopkins said.

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"What we're trying to deal with is all the damage up there," she said at a meeting Tuesday with other public land management agencies and conservation groups. "We have a tremendous amount of data that is begging for action."

Under the proposal, the Forest Service would create different zones in the 181,535-acre wilderness area and assign an acceptable "Groups At One Time" level for each zone. The plan would set up adaptive management options the Forest Service could implement, such as requiring people in a highly used zone to get a permit in advance. Anyone camping outside of a designated spot would be subject to a fine.

The plan and a link for submitting comments is available at http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=49388.

Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams previously said it is realistic that the agency will pursue a system that requires reservations and a fee for camping in the most heavily visited areas.

If a fee is pursued, Hopkins said it must be posted for one year before the proposed implementation so that the public is aware of the change and given a chance to comment. There is a chance the notice could be posted in summer 2017, she said, and implementation would be summer 2018 at the earliest.

"The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District has used every tool in the toolbox," Hopkins said. "This is the last tool, essentially."

Written comments must be submitted via mail, fax, electronically, or in person (Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., excluding holidays) to: Scott Fitzwilliams, Forest Supervisor, c/o Erin Carey, Project Leader, 620 Main Street, Carbondale, CO 81623, FAX: (970)404-3163. Electronic comments including attachments can be submitted to https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public//CommentInput?Project=49388.

scondon@aspentimes.com

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Following are snippets of public comments submitted thus far to the Forest Service on the overnight use restrictions proposed in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

•“I appreciate the fact that the USFS is examining impacts on the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area and thinking about management tools. However, in focusing solely on overnight stays, I believe it is failing to come to grips with the full scale of the problem. The West Maroon Trailhead is a disaster because of human waste. The hike from Aspen to Crested Butte is one of the more popular in the state. The trailhead on the CB side is often overflowing and reaches 100+ vehicles. When people start it on the Aspen side they have wonderful facilities. On the Crested Butte side there is nothing. This is a recipe for disaster.”

— Ian Billick, executive director, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, Gothic

•“An overnight visitors management plan is an excellent idea and long overdue. …. I am happy to accept restrictions on my ability to camp in the area in order to protect the resources.”

— Nora Underwood, Florida and Colorado

•“My idea: How about a OHV fund for hikers, like $25 yearly. To hike in the area you must have a permit. To camp in the area a camping permit. Charge lots of money to camp and hike, and patrol the area and fine the crap out of anybody not complying. It’s pay to play and other user groups have been doing it for years.”

— Steve and Jan Doyle, Colorado Springs

•“I understand the desire to regulate the area in the least restrictive way possible; however, for the sake of simplicity and therefore increased public compliance, perhaps a de facto permit system, rather than a threshold one, should be implemented.”

— Jill Cohen, Boulder

•“I commend the USFS and Mr. Fitzwilliams for coming up with a plan that would reduce damage to wilderness and also make for a better experience for visitors. The Maroon Bells is one of the most magnificent places in Colorado. It needs to be taken care of.”

— Ray Dixon, Vail

•“Many users of public lands feel it is an unlimited entitlement and can be abusive. Beginning to use permits/fees will hopefully create more awareness among our citizens that current use rates are creating permanent damage.”

— Warren Buettner, Silverthorne