Helping to pay for backcountry toilet
by Mark Reaman
The Crested Butte Town Council is aware of the summer impact on the nearby backcountry and is wading into the discussion. At the August 4 council meeting, the council agreed to spend $500 of its discretionary fund to help pay for a portable toilet located in the upper Slate River Watershed. The facility will stay there into the fall until after Vinotok.
The request came from the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition, which partnered with the U.S. Forest Service in 2014 to install a temporary portable toilet near the “Musician’s Camp” off Slate River Road. This summer, the USFS backed out of the financial partnership with CCWC after its money had to be reallocated.
CCWC executive director Zach Vaughter told the council that in six weeks last summer, the toilet at the camp collected 400 gallons of human waste. The toilet has been filling just as fast this summer since it was installed July 6.
“Due to the intense and increased recreational demand on the upper Slate, CCWC is requesting an additional $1,000 to supplement additional funding sources for the 2016 summer season to install a second portable toilet at another dispersed camping site in the Upper Slate,” Vaughter wrote the council.
While the council readily agreed to the $500 request for this summer, the council will look at the 2016 request during its budget sessions.
“Right now human waste in the watershed is more a social issue than a water quality issue but it could change,” explained Vaughter.
“We have all seen the activity up the Slate and it is exploding,” said mayor Aaron Huckstep. “$500 is nothing and I am in favor of supporting the request.”
“I am disappointed in the Forest Service,” added councilman Skip Berkshire. “$500 is chump change. I want our U.S. representatives to know that the Forest Service is not on top of this. To me it is a no-brainer for us to do this, but it is the Forest Service’s job.”
Vaughter said the group has collected $40 from a donation box at the Musician’s Camp to help pay for the toilet and they recently received a $50 private donation as well. “Next year we would like to have three portable toilets up there in the valley.”
Longtime Crested Butte resident Steve Glazer argued that the federal agencies responsible for managing the nearby public lands have not been doing a good job in managing the resources.
“And the town and other entities in the valley are doing what they can to attract tourists to the valley so I think they have some responsibility as well,” Glazer said. “Maybe the town can ask the Forest Service to require permits for dispersed camping up the Slate River Valley. The town could make the initiative since it is part of the reason all the recreators are coming here. It is time to manage this better.”
Huckstep said the Gunnison County commissioners were planning a work session later this month to discuss the growing backcountry impact issue. That will take place in Gothic, which is being heavily impacted by the rising numbers.
Town manager Todd Crossett said the Forest Service was studying impacts on the Gothic Valley this summer and collecting data.
Town Councilmember Glenn Michel said Glazer was correct in that the town should bear some responsibility for the situation. “As the town embraces the increase in sales tax from the increase in visitors, I think it has an obligation to invest some of that sales tax money in helping to manage this issue,” he said. “What is the town’s responsibility? We are helping to create some of this and we are benefiting from some of this, so what is our obligation?”
While no one came up with an answer to the question, at least the question was being asked. The council plans to be represented at the upcoming commissioner work session in Gothic.