The Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness, Colorado will have new overnight visitor regulations for the Summer 2018 backpacking season with limited entry permits and a required reservations system. The areas of Conundrum Hot Springs, Four Pass Loop and Capitol Lake have all been affected by a heavy increase of visitors in the last couple years, leading to ecological damage.
The affected areas will be getting a little help from the Forest Service this next season in the form of regulations that limit the amount of people allowed in the wilderness area overnight as well as reservations and permits.
The management plan will come in three phases, with the popular area of Conundrum Hot Springs as the top priority.
The Forest Service Plan will…
Phase 1: Focus on implementing a reservation system for a limited-entry overnight permit in the Conundrum Hot Springs zone. The reservation system will be used to allocate overnight camping capacity and will include a fee for the reservation transaction.
Phase 2: Implementation of a reservation system for limited-entry overnight permit for the popular Four Pass Loop.
Phase 3: Implementation of a reservation system for limited-entry overnight permit for Capitol Lake.
The reason for the changes in regulations? The Forest service sites years of research and documentation of environmental impact on these areas and the plan as a “necessary first step in addressing the biophysical impacts occurring in this Wilderness area”. –Full Forest Service Press Release Below
Officials have stated overcrowding was leading to a host of problems. Including;
- Bear-human encounters: Schroyer[Karen Schroyer, district ranger for the Forest Service’s Aspen-Sopris District] said the Forest Service has closed Crater Lake campsites in the past because people were failing to properly store food.
- Human waste: Wilderness rangers documented 273 instances of unburied feces at Conundrum, according to a Forest Service report in 2016. An agency assessment showed that there is human waste at nearly all of the campsites there, resulting in fecal coliform in the hot springs. Human waste is also a problem along the Four Pass Loop
- Trash: Rangers in the 181,000-acre Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness in 2016 packed out a total of 438 pounds of trash, 163 pounds of which came from the Conundrum area.
- Other issues include the formation of bandit trails, hundreds of illegal campfire rings in the wilderness area, which saw over 17,000 overnight users last year, and illegal tree cutting. -Aspen Daily News
U.S. Forest Service, White River National Forest, Colorado
Forest Service announces decision on Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness overnight management plan
Release Date: Nov 1, 2017
ASPEN, COLO. – The Forest Service announces the implementation of the proposed action (Alternative 2) of the Maroon Bells –Snowmass Wilderness Overnight Visitor Use Management Plan, setting comprehensive management direction for overnight visitor use in the Wilderness, located on the White River and Gunnison National Forests.
“We are excited to reach this point,” said Karen Schroyer, District Ranger. “The Plan has been years in the making, beginning with decades of documentation of environmental impacts, along with countless years of data collection, and community involvement. We have finally arrived at a decision that will protect this beloved Wilderness area while ensuring recreational opportunities into the future.”
Management actions will be implemented in phases. In summer of 2018, the Forest Service will focus on implementing a reservation system for a limited-entry overnight permit in the Conundrum Hot Springs zone. The reservation system will be used to allocate overnight camping capacity and will include a fee for the reservation transaction.
“We are implementing this in phases, to make sure we get it right,” said Schroyer. “We will be learning as we go, and making adjustments as needed through the adaptive management strategy. Conundrum is absolutely our top priority for the 2018 season.”
Phase two of the implementation will consist of a reservation system for limited-entry overnight permit for the popular Four Pass Loop. Phase 3 will be to implement a reservation system for limited-entry overnight permit for Capitol Lake.
Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness visitation records indicate that 71 percent of overnight visitors are from Colorado, 53 percent of which are from the Front Range. With that in mind, the Forest Service is planning on implementing a comprehensive outreach campaign early next year, with partners locally and across the state, to inform the public about the new reservation system.
The details of how to obtain a permit will be available in early 2018. Permits for Conundrum will be required year-round for camping and campers will need to obtain their permit prior to their trip at Recreation.gov.
Spillover of campers into adjacent zones without permits was a concern that was raised in the comment period. This concern was addressed with a modification in the Plan. The adaptive management plan identifies management actions available to address visitor displacement that may occur due to the implementation of a limited-entry permit in a camping zone.
“Concerns were raised that a limited-entry permit may create unwanted impacts in adjacent camping zones – basically a spillover of people in zones alongside the permitted zone,” said Schroyer. “We acknowledge this potential and clarified how the adaptive management strategy can be an iterative management process to address unforeseen future challenges.”
The Forest Service will implement the Plan and associated management actions utilizing a variety of tools based on legal authorities, feasibility, technical logistics and Forest Service resources.
While adoption of this Plan is an exciting and necessary first step in addressing the biophysical impacts occurring in this Wilderness area, effective implementation of this Plan and stewardship of this area in the future will likely require additional resources. Subsequently, the Forest Service will likely pursue authorization through the Federal Land Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) that would propose an additional fee for enhanced management needs. Once authorized, permit fees collected would be retained by the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District and reinvested into on-the-ground stewardship projects and management actions within the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Examples of enhanced management actions include; natural resource restoration projects, education, interpretation, outreach, and resource monitoring. A separate public process is required for any new or increased FLREA fees.
In the coming months, more information will be available about the implementation of this Plan and the limited-entry overnight permit for Conundrum Hot Springs. Be sure to visit White River National Forest website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver after the first of the year and wwww.Recreation.gov. Follow the White River National Forest on Facebook or @WhiteRiverNews on Twitter.
Visit the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Overnight Visitor Use Management Plan project page here.