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Forest Service takes on dispersed camping issues in Gunnison Valley

Unauthorized roads, waste disposal, overcrowding all to be tackled

By Aimee Eaton

The Gunnison National Forest Service will work to mitigate problems of overuse of forest land in the upper valley and Gunnison area this summer, and it will start with issues related to dispersed camping.

“Over the past few years there have been increases in recreation uses throughout our area,” said Lee Ann Loupe, public and legislative affairs officer, noting that while it is great to see so many people enjoying the forests, “The added numbers do come with a few challenges that require us to step up some management actions.”

Specifically, the agency is hoping to address user-created roads and trails; human and animal waste disposal problems; smoldering and abandoned campfires; increased season-long use and concentrated groups of users; and conflicts between users.

According to Loupe, these issues often have direct impacts on the land that compromise the environment for future and current users.

“There are some direct impacts to your forests occurring, including permanent loss of vegetation, soil erosion, sanitation issues, riparian impacts, loss of wildlife habitat and user conflicts that necessitate more effective management of dispersed camping,” Loupe said.

To manage the problem issues and protect the landscape, forest crews will work this summer to install educational signs and provide information to people wishing to venture into the backcountry; close unacceptable user-created roads, trails, and campsites; designate dispersed camping sites and spur roads; assess areas where dispersed camping is sustainable and will not cause significant impact; limit the size of existing campsites through the placement of physical barriers, enforce rules when necessary; and monitor the effectiveness of management actions.

“Recreationists are reminded to use ‘Leave No Trace’ practices as they enjoy the forests,” said Loupe. “These include: camping at least 100 feet from water bodies; cooking and storing food for safety from bears and other wildlife; using restroom facilities and/or burying human and animal waste at least six inches deep; ensuring that campfires are not left unattended and are fully out so that they are cool to the human touch; and stay on designated roads and trails with motorized vehicles.”

According to Loupe, the creation of unauthorized roads and the degradation of roadside areas has been particularly intense in the upper valley. This has prompted the Forest Service to identify 12 sections of road where motor vehicles will be limited to traveling about one vehicle-length off road for the purpose of dispersed camping. These corridors include:

•Washington Gulch, from the forest boundary to Elkton.

•Slate River Corridor, from the forest boundary to private land at Pittsburg.

•Kebler Pass Corridor, from the forest boundary to above Irwin Campground ending at private lands, to the top of Ohio Pass and Kebler Pass, and up the Splains Gulch road.

•Cement Creek Corridor, from the forest boundary to Deadman trailhead.

•Spring Creek Corridor, from the forest boundary to ¼ mile beyond junction of NFSRs #744 and #880.

•Taylor Canyon, camping only in developed campgrounds from Almont to Rivers End campground.

•Taylor River Corridor, from the junction with Cottonwood Pass road to Dorchester campground.

•Quartz Creek Corridor, from the forest boundary past Pitkin to Hall Gulch road junction.

•Middle Quartz Creek, from the junction with NFSR #765 to Middle Quartz Creek campground.

•Long Branch, from the forest boundary to Baldy Lake and Long Branch trailheads.

•Needle Creek Reservoir Corridor, from the forest boundary to the upper end of Needle Creek Reservoir.

The last items on the Forest Service’s summer to-do list comes directly from Scott Armentrout, forest supervisor for the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest, with two orders. The first order is intended to resolve parking and access issues near the Irwin Lodge and Scarp Ridge trailhead.

No parking will be allowed in the lot behind Irwin Lodge. The area has been a bone of contention for years, and Armentrout said the order serves to “provide for public health and safety and to avoid user conflicts.”

The second order creates a closure area for dispersed camping around Tin Cup. The location has experienced intense use and requires more active management, said Loupe. Closures will be made evident to visitors.

“The key objective of these changes is to ensure that everyone who uses their National Forest can do so in a sustainable manner and have a great time doing so,” said Loupe. “We look forward to continuing to work with our neighbors, recreationists and the greater community of users to continue offering world-class opportunities in our beautiful area.”

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