Mark Fuller: Guest Opinion
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
The recent decision by the U.S. Forest Service to limit camping and access to the summit of Independence Pass during the upcoming USA Pro Cycling Challenge is one that we at the Independence Pass Foundation fully support and applaud. We appreciate that the Forest Service is being true to its mission by making a priority of resource protection while loosening normal camping restrictions to accommodate the crowds of enthusiastic spectators that the Pro Cycling Challenge will attract.
The Independence Pass Foundation supports the Pro Cycling Challenge as a great event that showcases our area and the spectacular beauty of the pass through an exciting sporting spectacle. We would love to see the Pro Cycling Challenge foster a deeper appreciation of the sustainable, natural environments that the race traverses, but we can’t send that message if spectators are inflicting damage on our surroundings for the sake of being a few steps closer to their biking heroes. We think the Pro Cycling Challenge will become a fixture of the sporting and tourist calendar in years to come, and now is the time to establish the protocols and limitations that will make the event both user-friendly and environmentally sustainable. The Forest Service’s camping restrictions are an important step in that direction.
The tundra vegetation atop the pass is fragile, slow-growing and almost impossible to replace through human effort once it is damaged. Topsoil is thin to the point of being nonexistent, and once it is gone due to erosion or overuse, it can take generations to recover. Damage to the tundra from old snow fences and access roads is still visible many years after that damage occurred. The detrimental effects of camping, vehicular traffic and human occupancy on this delicate ecosystem might not be evident in one year or even two, but the cumulative impact of hundreds of people in tents and campers – even if only for a few days each year – would eventually be disastrous and irreversible.
The Forest Service policy of limiting camping to more resilient areas shows foresight, prudence and an appreciation of the resources that are unique to our alpine environment. Tundra currently makes up about 8 percent of the earth’s land area. Recent global climate change projections predict a decline in that amount to 1.8 percent in the next 50 years resulting from higher temperatures and changing precipitation patterns. Let’s not accelerate that loss by allowing a major campground to spring up at the top of the pass every year when the Pro Cycling Challenge comes through town.
In the coming years, there will be public discussions of redeveloping the summit of the pass to address the traffic and resource damage that is occurring there due to day-to-day travel and visitation. As one of the most-visited sites in Colorado, the summit of the pass deserves better than the minimal and deteriorating parking lot and pathways that are currently in place.
Redevelopment of the summit will provide an opportunity to discuss how improvements to that area can be integrated with the needs of the Pro Cycling Challenge and the traveling public while preserving the natural setting that visitors to the Pass now appreciate. In the meantime, let’s recognize that our natural environment should have a greater claim on our stewardship than a two-day sporting event, no matter how popular and worthwhile.
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