Saturday, August 8, 2020

Stakeholders look at mitigating tourism and recreation impacts

STOR priorities are improved parking, signage, bathrooms

By Katherine Nettles

The continued increase in tourism and recreation throughout Gunnison County has left a mark on certain well-travelled areas and is now the subject of focus among local land managers.

In order to curb the collateral damage of recreation, new signs and a parking area along the Slate River, more designated campgrounds to replace dispersed sites and inter-agency partnership on trail outreach at Taylor Park Canyon are among the improvements to local recreation areas that may be seen as early as this month, according to stakeholders who met in a Gunnison County Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation (STOR) committee meeting last week.

And more projects are to come, with the collaborative efforts of the STOR committee and new funding it received recently from a $350,000 GOCO grant for land stewardship, as reported by the Crested Butte News on June 21. A large part of the discussion at the June 27 meeting was brainstorming ideas for future projects to improve camping, parking and sanitation facilities in the Gunnison Valley.

While the committee reviewed that it had discussed Signal Creek, West Maroon and Judd Falls at its last meeting, its members proceeded to cover needs at Peanut Lake/Lower Loop, Gothic Campground, Rustler’s Gulch, the Almont river put-in, Nicholson Lake/Slate River and Taylor Canyon Park. The themes were, again and again, parking, signage and restrooms to reduce the misuse of and damage to the areas.

Taylor Park Canyon, which was regarded as a large problem area, took up a fair amount of discussion.

Gunnison Trails representative Gary Pierson said the organization is interested in helping the United States Forest Service (USFS) with a trails crew, to help manage some of that area. USFS Gunnison District ranger Matt McCombs said this could help immensely.

“The impacts there are extremely heavy. It’s important to have a field presence to tend to field contacts. And if you’re digging trail all day, you’re not out making contact with riders, and creating a new culture,” McCombs said.

Chris Parmeter with Colorado Parks and Wildlife said that in general, land managers have to draw a line and make it clear to recreationalists that they have limitations on use and availability.

“In order to be good stewards of the land, we just can’t allow everything, everywhere, all the time. We’re going to have to start saying no … and some people are going to just have to suffer. Some people are going to have to say, well, I guess I can’t do this here,” Parmeter said.

The committee did not make any final decisions on how or where to allocate the GOCO funds, but reviewed the STOR committee member survey results and discussed various needs at different locations (i.e., bathrooms at Slate River trailhead and parking at Rustlers Gulch) to help zero in on priorities. Several participating entities, such as Gunnison County and the USFS, also discussed their own ongoing efforts to minimize recreational impacts with projects that are already under way.

Gunnison County public works director Marlene Crosby explained her crew’s plans to sign the Slate River Road with “No ATV” signs this summer, to reduce the impact of unauthorized vehicle use in that area. ATV use on the Slate River Road is technically not permitted until past Pittsburg, since ATVs are not permitted on county roads. At Pittsburg, where the county road turns into a USFS road, a parking area has been discussed as a collaboration with the county and the USFS, said Crosby. “But we haven’t been able to get to it due to the late arrival of spring.

“The town and the land trust have been working on how to develop a trailhead there,” Crosby added. Crosby said the signs were a sure thing and were scheduled to arrive any day.

Aaron Drendal of the USFS presented the challenges and increasing burden of dispersed camping in various drainages, and the USFS’ work to restore some of the heavily damaged areas such as Musicians Camp in the Slate River Valley. He and McCombs talked about the need for additional designated campsites, which are more formal than dispersed sites, with signage, parking, permanent fire rings and delineation.

McCombs said the USFS has identified that dispersed camping both in and around Crested Butte is unsustainable. “Dispersed camping has been a problem that’s growing and growing, and we feel like we’re outside our forest plan guidance,” he said later in a separate interview with the Crested Butte News.

As part of a public review process, McCombs said the USFS took the opportunity to start the conversation with the STOR committee, because it is such a large group of local stakeholders. He explained how more designated campsites would help the situation, as would public outreach and education efforts about the changes.

“It would also arrest the unsustainable resource damage as visitation continues to increase,” McCombs said. “We wanted to brief the STOR committee on our work in case they decide to go forward with this,” he said. “I see the stewardship fund as well as the GOCO grant as great potential opportunities to invest in sustainable, high-quality experiences for visitors and residents alike in this area.”

The USFS’ next steps will be outreach to the public for further input.

Community and Economic Development director Cathie Pagano said that while the STOR committee’s project prioritization is initially related to the GOCO funding, she anticipates it will also inform future project funding discussions for the organization.

The STOR committee includes more than 20 representatives from Gunnison County; the city of Gunnison; the towns of Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte and Pitkin; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; the U.S. Forest Service (USFS); the Bureau of Land Management; the National Park Service; the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association; the Gunnison County Stockgrowers’ Association; Crested Butte Mountain Resort; Western State Colorado University; the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District; and several additional public at-large representatives from the Crested Butte Land Trust, Nordic Center, Conservation Corps and others.

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