Designated campsites and recreation rangers are some of the current and potential changes to Chaffee County’s public land. The Chaffee Rec Task Force held its 30th meeting on Tuesday, August 3rd. The task force heard from members of the Chaffee Rec Council who were touring sections of the Gunnison National Forest near Crested Butte, where camping management has changed dramatically in severely affected areas near Crested Butte.
Ben Lara, United State Forest Service (USFS) Recreation Program Manager, said of the Gunnison National Forest, “You went to a particular site management system. No fee and no reservation, so first come, first served. The six major drainages in the Crested Butte area are now only open for designated camping. They have containment fences, campsite owners and fabricated fire rings. ”
The sites are guarded and cleaned by agency employees and volunteer groups. These changes are the result of record visitor numbers and negative land effects such as erosion, loss of vegetation, human litter, residential campers and bank damage. To address similar issues in the Arkansas Valley, the Chaffee Rec Council previously approved the Chaffee County’s Outdoor Recreation Management Plan and its comprehensive camping recommendations. Some of these could be similar to the actions taken on public land near Crested Butte.
Friends of Fourmile’s Alan Robinson shared the level of usage in the Fourmile Travel Management Area near Buena Vista. Robinson shared the results of Friends of Fourmile’s 13th annual Memorial Day poll. The informal survey will be conducted by volunteers on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.
On Memorial Day, volunteers say they have seen a dramatic increase in usage even beyond the record-breaking, pandemic-driven year 2020. Road vehicles grew 26 percent, overnight campers 30 percent, and ATVs 86 percent year-over-year, in 2021, according to the timing survey. The group also tracks scattered campsites in the Fourmile area.
According to their Memorial Day report, “The total number of scattered campsites we visited in 2021 was 389, nearly three times what it was in 2009. Of that total, there are at least 100 sites that have expanded, some even five times.” [in size]. “
To counteract the increasing use, four recreational rangers, two from the Bureau of Land Management and two from the USFS, patrol and clean public land.
Lisa Mellick, who works for USFS in Developed and Dispersed Recreation in the Salida Ranger District, described what the Rec Rangers did. “They patrol some of the most heavily used areas, South Cottonwood, Fourmile and Browns. They cleaned up garbage, fire pits, human waste. There was an unapproved route to South Cottonwood that they closed, ”Mellick said. The rangers have also built fences, rehabilitated overused areas and supported agency employees with discreet projects. As recreation soars to unprecedented levels, much of the burden of daily cleaning and maintenance of campsites falls on the Rec Rangers and volunteer groups like the Chaffee Rec users and Friends of Fourmile.
The Chaffee Rec Task Force is public and meets every first Tuesday of the month. For information on meetings, please contact Kim Marquis at [email protected]