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BLM decides to upgrade Oh Be Joyful campground

Ultimately fewer sites. Campsite charge to begin immediately

By Mark Reaman

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has signed the official decision order to upgrade the Oh Be Joyful campground area up the Slate River Valley, north of Crested Butte. That upgrade will come at the cost of reducing the number of campsites in the area.

The decision order signed on May 3 by Gunnison BLM field manager Elijah Waters lays out a plan for 31 total campsites. There will be 18 tent sites and 12 trailer sites, along with a group campsite that could accommodate up to 30 people and an overflow camping area for busy weekends. There will be four vault toilets on location and 41 total parking spaces. No campsites will ultimately be allowed on the west side of the Slate River. “The Proposed Action alternative is a balance between addressing resource issues, visitor health and safety, overcrowding and visitor experience,” the decision states.

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The 622 acres managed by the BLM have been a big draw for both day and overnight use the last several summers. Scores of rogue campsites were established outside of the official campground footprint on both sides of the river. There were only 24 official parking spaces and one vault toilet, while 47 official sites had been established. At least 85 “dispersed” campsites have been counted at the location by the BLM.

A 2015 visitor study from Memorial Day through Labor Day indicated the OBJ Recreation Area had approximately 22,000 day visitors and 20,000 overnight visitors. That doesn’t even include the 35,000 day-use visitors who used the Lower Loop area that comes close to the campground.

The decision document acknowledges that recent Forest Service actions to limit camping in the Gothic corridor and now reducing the number of campsites at OBJ could “create further displacement of visitors to other areas open to dispersed camping around Crested Butte.”

The upgrade would be paid for through overnight use fees generated at the campground, appropriated funds, grants and potential partnerships.

The project’s cost would include improvements to the road leading to the campsite that would handle trailers and motorhomes. A day use and overflow camping parking area would also be established. The decision states that the goal is to have between 70 and 100 feet between each campsite and no facility development within 25 feet of the Slate River. Eventually a trail bridge wide enough to accommodate hand cycles could be built across the Slate.

Other trail improvements in the area could also be made when funding is achieved. Day use and overnight activities would have more separation, while overflow camping could handle busy weekends during the summer.

BLM recreation planner Kristi Murphy said the improvements would be phased in and done when money becomes available. There is no set timing nor a good estimate of the cost of the entire project, but the expectation is that road improvements will be done this June to make the road accessible to more vehicles. “We are hoping to get some of the additional toilets in there in the fall,” said Murphy. “Money is always an issue but the bottom line is that it is good to have a plan on the shelf that we can follow when the money becomes available.”

Until the improvements are completed, some camping would still be allowed on the west side of the Slate River.

According to Murphy, once the campground melts out, probably in late May or early June, there will be a $10 per night charge for sites that have both fire rings and picnic tables. Those sites with fire rings only will be $5 per night.

The decision states that with the upgrade and reduction in number of sites, the camping experience “would be improved for the visitors because sites would be separated to allow for more solitude.”

“It is always a tough balance to find between experience and capacity,” noted Murphy. “It is even more difficult in a small area like this but we are seeing progress.”

The decision will become official 30 days after the order was signed.

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