Meredith C. Carroll: To Aspen’s newest residents: leave no trace

Meredith C. Carroll
Muck Off
Meredith Carroll
Courtesy photo

“Leave no trace” is chief among the guiding principles of wilderness and backcountry travel: While you’re not required to leave the outdoors better than you found it, you are nevertheless duty-bound not to make it worse or markedly different.

Likewise, “leave no trace” could serve as an appropriate mantra for the scores of new families burrowing into the Aspen-Snowmass area for the long winter ahead. As has been widely reported, enrollment at the Aspen School District is up roughly 900% over the 2019-20 academic year, a fact that surprises exactly no one already here. The people who traded the real world for the Roaring Fork Valley even before COVID-19 readily identify with preferring the mountains over metropolitan living. Hi, and welcome.

Your presence here is valued and will be even more so as you grow increasingly comfortable with the seven best practices of being a sustained — and sustainable — member of a small Western town.

1. Plan ahead and prepare

Monday’s Aspen School District Board of Education meeting made many points, but only one was clear: A back-to-school plan and the specific details are anything but clear at this point, which means now’s the time to prepare for all scenarios, including one that will definitely not mirror or probably even resemble that of the school you’ve opted to leave behind. Pandemic or not, Aspen schools are cherished for focusing on the whole child with an extra special emphasis on the outdoors. Local public school academic and athletic standards do not stand shoulder-to-shoulder with private and high-profile public schools; this is by design.

Furthermore, the impact of a high-triple-digit percent increase in the student body cannot be overstated. The district is already scrambling to guard against COVID-19 amid state budget cuts in education, all while also planning some form of distance learning, at least initially. Add to that the expense of enough new students to fill the equivalent of another entire grade and then perhaps contribute to the Aspen Education Foundation, Aspen Family Connections and Aspen Community Foundation as they continue fortifying and bolstering the people, buildings, organizations and services vital to the school and wider community. Preserving the character and charm of what you’re running to by not turning it into what you’re running from will be neither inexpensive nor quick — not in Aspen, and definitely not at a public school in the time of the coronavirus.

2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces

Aspen and Snowmass have an abundance of trails, routes and campgrounds. Familiarize yourself with the local known quantities before trying to forge a new path. Use the time you’re committing to Colorado to discover why others choose to live here even when the world isn’t languishing in a dumpster fire. But really: Stay on marked trails. Now’s not the time to mobilize a Mountain Rescue search because you were sure you remembered this spot on top of Independence Pass where you once took a stunning picture. You know, COVID-19 precautions, precious resources and all.

3. Dispose of waste properly

Lock up your trash cans, doors, windows, cars and bicycles. Chances are strong that neither the burglars nor paparazzi are interested in your stuff. The bears and drunks, on the other hand, will get you every time. Also: Pick up after your dog or we will sic the bears and drunks on you.

4. Leave what you find

Take a cue from the Boy Scouts: “Allow others a sense of discovery, and preserve the past.” The town with a shallow reputation has a history that, in fact, runs deep with impactful people and meaningful stories worth knowing about and safeguarding. Related: Check out (and support) the Aspen Historical Society plus both of Aspen’s local newspapers (because if you moved here without reading either one online, I don’t believe you).

5. Minimize campfire impacts

Yes, there are lots of legal marijuana to smoke, vaporize and ingest. However, please channel your inner Smokey Bear and do your part to prevent forest fires. Also: Don’t leave pot edibles anywhere near children unlikely to know or care what a THC warning is on a package filled with chocolate candies or gummy bears.

6. Respect wildlife

If you were investing in a safari adventure, you’d do at least cursory research on what wildlife to expect while safely tucked inside a Jeep. Do the same for Aspen, because you will see wildlife, and it probably won’t be from inside a jeep.

7. Be considerate of other visitors

Go easy on the tourists. They tend to try your patience when you’re just trying to live your life, but we love (and need) ’em anyway.

More at or on Twitter @MCCarroll


Asher on Aspen: Find your church

On a recent September Saturday morning, I awoke with an intense yearning to lose myself in the mountains, disconnect from cell service, and rediscover why I decided to call Aspen home in the first place. Standing there, at the Cathedral Lake trailhead, I knew I was right where I needed to be.

See more