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Forest Service considering closure of dispersed camping near Gothic

Changes to motor vehicle use map also set into motion

by Olivia Lueckemeyer

Regional Forest Service representatives addressed concerns and potential plans for traffic restrictions and dispersed camping closures near Gothic for the coming summer at a Gunnison County Board of County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, February 9.

In order to address the issue of overcrowding, a temporary closure of Gothic camping areas was discussed. In addition, USFS Gunnison district ranger John Murphy also presented his plan to update the motor vehicles use map to restrict traffic to designated routes, instead of the previous allowance of 30 feet on either side of the road for camping purposes.

“Enforcing might be difficult, but we plan to implement that this summer,” Murphy said.

Director of the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab Ian Billick, who had initially expressed his disdain over the rise in off-route traffic in the drainage, was pleased with the Forest Service’s move to temper the issue.

“We are very excited that the Forest Service is moving forward with managing camping and traffic,” Billick said.

This issue became a major public concern last summer after an overflow of people in the valleys around Crested Butte damaged resources and impacted the drainage. The Gothic area became so negatively affected by human and vehicle overuse that local and federal representatives met last August to brainstorm ways to address the growing problem. At that time the Forest Service promised to begin taking action to alleviate some of the pressure.

Murphy also addressed the public’s desire for public transportation out to Judd Falls. Though this is not something the Forest Service will be able to accomplish this year, Murphy said, progress could be made by developing a site plan and initiating the necessary engineering requirements.

“If we were to put in a turnaround for public transportation, that would require engineering to make sure that the surface area is adequate to handle the weight of the bus and the turn radius,” Murphy said. “Then once we know what the footprint is we would have to send specialists out to look at it and then likely go through a categorical exclusion to authorize that.”

The issue of cost estimates and where to acquire funding for such a project was also debated. Murphy indicated that discussions were under way to tackle these questions, but decisions had not yet been made.

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In relation to the potential closure of dispersed camping, commissioner Jonathan Houck stressed the importance of adequate signage.

“If it is closed to dispersed camping and there is good signage before people even enter that area, then we are addressing some of those traffic issues and preventing people who might drive in thinking they are going to find camping from making the trip at all,” Houck said. “It might change some of those traffic patterns in a positive way.”

Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest supervisor Scott Armentrout said that, like most major changes to camping and road usage, the process would be one of trial and error.

“We are going to have to try to be adaptive here,” Armentrout said.

The Forest Service plans to issue a news release in about two weeks with further information. The issue will then be opened up to comments from the public.

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