Browns Creek Alliance volunteers to monitor, help maintain popular rec area
Mesa Antero resident Chuck Azzopardi lovingly calls the Browns Creek and Raspberry Gulch recreation area his “front” yard.
“A lot of us here do,” he said of the Nathrop-area subdivision with about 200 homes nestled at the base of Mount Antero. In between the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness to the west and the subdivision, 6,000 acres in the San Isabel National Forest offer dispersed camping, mountain biking, creeks, and a variety of hikes, including the Colorado Trail and Browns Creek Falls, not to mention the beauty and solitude that many people who live here and visit enjoy.
“In recent years, we have seen a definite increase in all uses of Browns Creek,” said Azzopardi, an Envision Recreation in Balance (RiB) Task Force member leading Browns Creek Alliance with neighbor Quinn MacLeod, who is the subdivision’s wildfire specialist.
Azzopardi cites a growing number and size of campsites and campfires and says neighbors have grown concerned about the long-term sustainability of the Browns Creek Recreation Area. “A little education can improve visitors campsite and campfire etiquette,” he said. “This new volunteer group will support sustainable management of these public lands so they are available for future generations to enjoy.”
Browns Creek and Raspberry Gulch are identified as a top priority area by the RiB program, which is working to maintain healthy public lands, quality user experiences and the economic benefits of tourism through a long-term planning strategy. About 60 people from 30 groups are working to achieve these goals as visitation and recreation use in Chaffee County grow. The program is led by Envision, the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA) and the USFS and is supported by a Colorado Parks and Wildlife grant.
Many Mesa Antero residents are signing up to be a part of Brown Creek Alliance, which is modeling after the two-decade-old Friends of Fourmile.
Browns Creek Alliance is working in partnership with the Salida Ranger District to plan and complete activities. This summer, they are gathering visitation data by counting vehicles as well as “toys” such as mountain bikes on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day.
“This data will be shared with the Forest Service and can be used to determine if the number of visitors is within the Browns Creek Recreation Area’s capacity, as well as confirm whether or not visitation continues to grow, and if so, by how much,” Azzopardi said.
Volunteers also are surveying and assessing dispersed campsites to determine if long-term sustainability can be improved. “Once sites have been ranked, less than ideal campsites may be mitigated or reconfigured while high-ranking, popular campsites may be hardened or improved,” he said.
The Forest Service already is working with Southwest Conservation Corp to install buck-and-rail fencing in some popular sites to prevent their continued expansion into the forest. A future consideration may be to develop designated dispersed camping to better manage camping in the area, Azzopardi added.
Browns Creek Alliance is interested in promoting visitor education through new kiosks or perhaps a brochure. Friends of Fourmile, which is a chapter of the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA), added and updated about 30 signs and kiosks in that popular area this spring, with funding from Chaffee Common Ground, the town of Buena Vista, BLM and the local user group Buena Vista Singletrack Coalition.
If visitors understand proper outdoor recreation and dispersed camping etiquette, they are more inclined to be responsible and respectful users of our public resources. Responsible campers tend to leave the area the way they find it, or maybe even better, ensuring sustainability of our natural resources for future generations.”Chuck Azzopardi
To this end, a sandwich billboard sign was recently installed at the Browns Creek entrance to let visitors know about this season’s fire ban. The Mesa Antero Property Owners’ Association voted to provide funding for future visitor education signage.
“Browns Creek Alliance intends to be a sounding board for locals and visitors, as to how the area can be improved for the benefit of all,” Azzopardi said, inviting input and boots-on-the-ground volunteer action. Contact Chuck at JanChuckBobbi@gmail.com.