Colorado wildfires pushed some people up here…
To no one’s surprise, this summer can be characterized as busy. Whether it is Elk Avenue, downtown Gunnison or the backcountry, people are everywhere. While hard numbers are not yet available, the woods are teeming with people and according to the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, it is a pretty typical summer.
“It is summer and it is busy,” said John Murphy, Forest Service district ranger for the Gunnison Ranger District.
“It feels like we are on the high side of a normal summer,” added Bureau of Land Management outdoor recreation planner Jim Lovelace from the Gunnison BLM office. “In terms of camping in the backcountry, it appears we are at capacity.”
The BLM oversees land all over the county, but two of the heaviest effects come at the Oh Be Joyful area along the Slate River north of Crested Butte and at Hartman Rocks near Gunnison.
“Oh Be Joyful is always full of campers in the summer and this year is no exception,” said Lovelace. “But overall, we haven’t seen any unacceptable impacts. We encourage people to camp in places that have been previously used for camping and we aren’t seeing new campsites being occupied. People are good about using already impacted campsites.”
The Forest Service is having a similar experience. “It is kind of a mixed bag this summer,” said Murphy. “It is busy but some areas are busier than others so far this summer.”
Murphy’s summation is based primarily on observations from Forest Service employees out in the field this summer. The one hard number he has shows that based on Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s Forest Service permit, mountain biking at the resort is up about 15 percent over last year.
“It appears to us that mountain biking and OHV [off highway vehicle] use is definitely up in the Cement Creek area this summer,” he said. “It is starting to look as busy as the Taylor Park area for us, and that is busy.”
As for camping, Murphy said the campgrounds along Taylor Road have fewer campers this year than in years past. “I talked to the concessionaire and they are hoping for a strong August to make up for a slower start than normal. That might be because of the Taylor River Road project. We were up in Tincup for a meeting last week and activity in general was non-stop up there.”
Even the dispersed camping and traffic at other developed Forest Service campgrounds in the county is down a bit. “It’s certainly busy but not busier than normal,” he said.
One camping issue that both the BLM and Forest Service deal with every summer is people who live in a campsite all summer. That is not allowed.
“It is a consistent issue but it might be a bit better this year,” said Lovelace. “We have an enforcement officer letting people know the rules. There is a 14-day limit for recreational camping. Those who are living fulltime on pubic lands can have a 24-hour notice to vacate the site. We are finding that it’s just a matter of talking to the people. It’s not so much issuing citations. We contact them and let them know the regulations and people are pretty good about it.”
“We deal with that every year,” said Murphy. “This year we have seen people doing it up Cement Creek, up Kebler and out the Slate. It’s no worse than normal but it is an issue every summer. It is a continual issue.”
Both Murphy and Lovelace said the major wildfires in the southern part of the state might have pushed some people up to our region. “We noticed an uptick in visitors who were planning on vacationing in the South Fork area,” said Lovelace. “We saw people in their RVs and on the OHVs who said they were initially planning to be down there.”
“When we have large wildfires in other parts of the state, it does seem to displace users to other places. It pushes people up our way,” said Murphy.
Murphy said the wilderness trails are seeing a tad more traffic than the previous summer but it is growing at a normal rate. He said the office estimates traffic on the trails toward the Maroon Bells is up 1 or 2 percent over 2012, which is normal.
Down at Hartman Rocks, the recent rains have left the trails in great shape. Lovelace said mountain bikers and hikers have noticed and are using the trails. “The moisture knocked down the dust and we are definitely seeing people back out there,” he said.
Overall, things in the backcountry are expected to stay busy for several more weeks. Lovelace said people would head to the woods all summer. “When schools start back up, we see the people start to leave. That is typically about mid-August when the Texas schools return.”
So, as we head into autumn, it will be primarily weekend and local traffic using the backcountry. And of course, come October when the high trails start closing in Crested Butte, you can expect a big increase in use at Hartman’s.