USFS Gunnison District Office making improvements in local drainages
By Katherine Nettles
While Crested Butte was once known for its informal, laid-back and open camping options within just minutes of the town, it appears the era of dispersed camping in the area is coming to a close in favor of more sustainable land use management.
The Gunnison Valley Sustainable Tourism and Recreation (STOR) committee is working with the U.S. Forest Service to clean up and organize campsites in six drainages from Cement Creek to Keblar, and STOR is investing a large portion of an environmental stewardship grant it was awarded this spring for the cause.
The STOR committee was awarded a total of $350,000 from the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Stewardship fund, and agreed on July 25 to allocate $50,000 per year for three years (for a total of $150,000) to the USFS plan for designated camping, said committee member and county commissioner John Messner.
The USFS Gunnison Ranger District Office has been working on this designated campsite improvement plan for months to better manage campsites near Crested Butte.
Members of the Gunnison District Office presented their ideas to the STOR committee at its regular meeting in June about how to mitigate the consequences of user volume and new recreational technology. Gunnison District ranger Matt McCombs says that new RVs (recreational vehicles) and campers with higher clearance, more power, larger water tanks and more creature comforts “allow people to go where they haven’t before and to stay longer.”
Remediation will include using boulders to separate campsites, increasing signage, numbering sites, adding permanent fire rings and regulating the areas more to allow them to recover.
“There is concern that this is going to minimize opportunities and push people out of recreational areas. That’s not at all the goal,” says McCombs. “The areas we will target for decommissioning will be ones that are too close to water, or sites on steep slopes with unstable or unsuitable soils—and then some of the newer sites that have appeared for the first time this year,” he says.
The Forest Service hopes to finalize its campsite improvement plan and get it out for public input by mid to late August or September, and begin working next year, says McCombs.
“The district is thrilled by the vote of confidence and commitment we have received from the STOR committee. The goal of this project is to respond to the changes we are seeing…to maximize recreational opportunities while minimizing impacts, and get us on a sustainable path forward,” says McCombs.
Another portion of the GOCO grant funding will be used to hire a stewardship coordinator. Cathie Pagano, director of Gunnison County Community and Economic Development, said the stewardship coordinator’s role will likely include grant writing and support of the STOR Committee. The committee has discussed further projects for its remaining GOCO funds to be determined in the future.