Summer work addresses immediate needs on public lands impacted by growth
Envision Recreation in Balance Task Force members plan multiple projects in the coming months that address recreation impacts on public lands in Chaffee County.
The Task Force met monthly for more than a year to develop a mobile recreation impacts monitoring system and create projects in response to the collected data.
The work includes dispersed campsite containment, campfire ring deconstruction, signage to encourage better behavior, and human waste management in popular areas such as Horn Fork Basin, Clear Creek, Fourmile and Raspberry Gulch.
Chuck Cichowitz, a backpacking outfitter in Horn Fork Basin, has observed proliferating impacts along trails to Mounts Harvard and Columbia as well as Bear and Kroenke lakes.
“Over many years I have seen increasing impacts, proliferation of over-sized fire altars, spreading social trails, and damage to irreplaceable krumholtz trees,” Cichowitz said. He and staff at Noah’s Ark Rafting and Adventure Co. are leading the Envision Healthy Horn Fork project, working with the Salida Ranger District this summer to map and prioritize work in the basin.
They will identify areas with sensitive natural resources such as water, wetlands, boreal toad breeding habitat and subalpine trees, then remediate campsites and social trails that threaten resources while encouraging recreation use where it can be accommodated.
Cichowitz is especially concerned about impacts caused by summit-bound hikers camping near tree-line. Up to 100,000 people hike 14,000-foot-peaks in the Sawatch Range every year, according to counts by the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative.
“Burning a century-old krumholtz tree for an evening’s fire, leaving human waste and trash; we have to do better,” Cichowitz said. “We must work together to develop and implement both near-term and strategic solutions to accommodate growth and steward the natural resources.” Krumholtz are stunted trees that grow extremely slowly on high mountain slopes where they are sculpted by continual exposure to fierce, freezing winds.
Cichowitz hopes the Healthy Horn Fork project leads to a new Wilderness stewardship model to be adopted in the Chaffee Rec Plan, a strategic plan being developed by the Envision Recreation in Balance program to maintain healthy public lands, quality experiences and a sustainable recreation economy into the future.
Using a smartphone application, program volunteers recorded more than 1,100 campfire rings and 14 miles of social trails in the county’s popular dispersed camping areas last year. Thirty percent of the sites had more than a gallon of trash or human waste. More than 100 football fields’ worth of impacted ground soil were recorded.
Volunteers photographed soil erosion into waterways and abandoned smoldering campfires. During the data collection period from July to September, 39 campsites were noted for possible residential use.
A project similar to Healthy Horn Fork is being organized by Envision Task Force members in northern Chaffee County’s Clear Creek drainage, which has about 200 dispersed campsites. The area is frequented by hunters, anglers, history buffs, motorized users and hikers who access five Fourteener trailheads from the valley’s seven-mile road.
“The overnight occupancy and use in the valley is expanding yearly and resulting in negative impacts on resources and conflicts among users,” said Tom Sobal with the Quiet Use Coalition, a participating Recreation in Balance organization. Problems involve motorized access to camping in designated roadless and Wilderness areas, on trails and immediately adjacent to creeks, Sobal said.
The Clear Creek project will work in partnership with the Leadville Ranger District to map, prioritize and address campsites with the most severe impacts while encouraging sustainable use in appropriate sites.
Volunteers interested in working in Horn Fork Basin or Clear Creek this summer are encouraged to contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved.
Recreation in Balance Task Force members also created a countywide adopter program for campsites that is modeled around Adopt-A-Trail. Groups of volunteers will monitor, clean and in other ways steward camping areas such as Raspberry Gulch in Nathrop. The program will be managed by the Salida Ranger District in partnership with Colorado Mountain Club. Contact Connor Maher at email@example.com to get involved.