Ranchers and scientists are getting pounded by trespassing. Be careful of the karma.

As the saying goes, karma can be a bitch. One example: A while back I decided to follow a fellow mountain biker to “poach” a trail. As I rode down through the property, the owner happened to be there, looked at me, pointed and greeted my intrusion by name. I returned the greeting, continued down to town, stopped at the liquor store, purchased a bottle of wine, put it in my Camelbak and went directly to the property owner’s house where I left the wine with a note of apology. I swear I had more flat tires on the trails that summer than ever before or since. Karma.

It sure seemed benign at the time. What was one trip through an old trail? How much could it hurt? Well, it does matter. It matters more on certain properties where, for instance, people are trying to do their jobs. Ranchland or property used by scientists at RMBL probably top the list.

Heck, I got a rundown on some of the things that the folks up at RMBL were encountering in just a few recent days. It included dealing with several people in vehicles trespassing over research property, including search-and-rescue vehicles responding to a person in danger by Judd Falls; hearing about an unattended and growing campfire near the Judd Falls parking lot; a naked male hiker acting stranger than normal; dealing with hiker traffic on a new trail by Judd Falls that doesn’t go anywhere but does result in tourists trampling through a research meadow to try to find a way back to their cars; the emergence of another large pothole just north of the RMBL Visitor’s Center that was causing vehicles to swerve around the road; confronting visitors heading up a “no road” because their GPS directed them there; and tourists asking scientists to move from where they are working on RMBL property because the scientists were in the way of their photograph.

The scientific stuff happening at RMBL may look benign but it makes a difference to the world. Some of the research has been conducted on the same plot of ground for decades. To suddenly be overrun by people prevents scientists from doing their jobs. That is beyond rude—it is bad karma.

On the ranch side, every local rancher I have had even a brief conversation with says it is getting harder and harder to ranch up here. That means it is harder and harder to ply their business up here. Tourism and ranching are not a natural partnership. But we recreationalists sure like the views without a boatload of condominiums dotting every hillside like there are at most other mountain resort valleys. Again, the increasing numbers of people are pressuring the longtime ranching operations and making their lives harder.

photo by Lydia Stern
photo by Lydia Stern

If a trail is poached when cattle are on a grazing allotment, the activity tends to do a couple of things not good for the rancher. Instead of allowing the cattle to spread out and graze throughout a particular piece of property, the cattle are likely to get pushed into one small area of that property. This leads to overgrazing a specific spot and that is not good for properly managing the land. It is not good for the cattle. Hikers and bikers can also spook cattle and that leads to stress and loss of pounds and that’s money. People don’t or can’t close gates and that allows cattle to go where they shouldn’t. Colorado law requires landowners to fence cattle out—so it’s a homeowner’s responsibility to keep cattle out of the yard, not the rancher’s. They have a lot more things to do than keep a cow out of your landscaped columbines. And on and on…

The Allen ranching family recently put up a “No Trespassing” sign by a pirate trail heading up from Long Lake to the top of the ridge and over toward the Slate River Valley. Apparently they watched as people approached the new gate and sign, stopped to read the sign, and while the majority of folks turned around and went back to the lake, a hefty percentage climbed over the aspen gate and continued up the trail. So it’s not just numbers causing the problem but a lack of respect and manners.

One theory for the increase in the trespassing above Long Lake is that a few people climbed the trail earlier this summer, took a photo from above the lake looking down the valley and posted the photo on Facebook and other social media. That encouraged others to do the same. That led the Allens to post this on their Facebook page:

Dear CB/Gunnison Community: We acknowledge that there has been confusion about access to Meridian Lake (aka Long Lake) so we have placed ‘No Trespassing’ signs where access ends. To be clear, the access is to the lake shore only. Please do not proceed beyond the new sign that was recently installed. We realize that this may not have been clear in the past but we appreciate your cooperation going forward. These lands are still utilized by our family ranch and their effective management is crucial to our business. Remember, access to the Lake and the Snodgrass Trail are a privilege granted to the community by the Allen Family. Don’t abuse those privileges or they may no longer be available. Thanks for your cooperation and please share.

The local Crested Butte Mountain Biking Association then posted its own warning:

Folks, as entitled and self-deserving as some feel about access and trails, you must know that trespassing is extremely damaging to our image as bikers and users. More important, it hurts relations with those who provide many recreation opportunities and further limits the future of possible trail options. Please do what’s right, and don’t trespass. In particular, please don’t poach Cloud City via Long Lake—it’s not your right! The Allen Family works hard to provide opportunities like the Snodgrass Trail. Would you like to see that go away? Our use and future opportunities are threatened by blatant disregard. Please heed the signs!

To be fair, the ranchers watching the people blow by the sign after it went up said they were primarily hikers. That matters not so much. As the numbers grow and the attitudes shift to a sometimes less polite, lesser understanding of the impacts on people like ranchers and scientists trying to make a living here, we are in danger of losing the things that still are different here—a laid-back friendliness that respects our neighbors and the landscapes that separate us from Summit County or Vail. Understand too that the steep trail leading you up to the cool waters of Long Lake is on private property, as is about half of the lake. If that trail closes, so does easy access to a summer favorite.

Okay, I am not proud of the poach. It matters. And if greater numbers and poor attitude get out of control—like the perception seems to be these days—we will all pay the price. If ranchers and scientists determine it is too much trouble to deal with a growing pain in the butt than to do the jobs they love—don’t be surprised when they throw in the towel with their property and water rights. Those are valuable assets.

And if you think you’d prefer to deal with out-of-town developers who would spend millions of dollars turning ranches and research meadows into real estate and private vacation homes rather than your neighbors trying to cull a living from the land, think again. Through a continued lack of respect and manners, all of us would suffer more than a few flat tires if that is where we push this change.

Think about it. Karma can be a bitch.

—Mark Reaman

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