On a Thursday morning in early July, the Chaffee Rec Rangers arrive at the Buffalo Peaks Trailhead deep in the Fourmile Recreation Management Area, where remnants of a campfire remain after last weekend’s visitor activity.
“Folks had a bonfire here using a stack of wood pallets as fuel,” Recreation Ranger Miles Crane says as he plucks a handful of nails out of an ash pile in the parking lot. “Someone’s going to come back from a hike and return to their vehicle with four flat tires.”
The nails and ash are scooped up with shovels by Crane and the rest of the crew. They install a “No Fires/No Camping” sign at the edge of the popular trailhead, along with another sign reminding visitors to clean up after pets.
The five-person crew had already fixed the perimeter fence at Bob’s Rock — a popular climbing crag — and protected a grassy meadow on Fourmile Creek from off-roaders. They also stopped to discuss campsite options with a group interested in setting up for the holiday weekend. The visitors were surprised to hear that they should not drive off-road into the forest to camp.
“A small number of people still need to receive that education, that there are places you can’t go with a vehicle for national forest lands to be preserved for current and future generations,” Crane said.
The Salida Ranger District manages the new Chaffee Rec Rangers’ work on all public lands in Chaffee County. The program was developed under the Chaffee County Outdoor Recreation Management Plan to help address the impacts of dispersed camping. Recreation use more than doubled in the Fourmile area in the last seven years, according to volunteer monitoring.
Forest Patrol Officers like Crane are able to implement the “Three E’s”: education, engineering and enforcement, said Recreation Program Manager Lisa Mellick. “Added staff presence can also result in less vandalism and a greater sense of respect for natural resources.”
The Rangers are patrolling the county’s busiest recreation areas this summer. In the area of clean-up and safety, they’ve picked up a lot of trash, removed unapproved toilets (think five-gallon bucket) and extinguished a few campfires that flared up on Aspen Ridge in hot temperatures and dry winds. The campers had already left the area and no citations were written.
The Forest Service is funding the majority of program costs this year with additional contributions from the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado State Land Board and Chaffee Common Ground.
In addition to the new Rec Rangers, a Salida-based patrol officer was added this summer to focus on enforcement.