Discussion on use of backcountry to be held in Gothic

Expect talks of people numbers, waste, possible road closures and more

By Adam Broderick

The desecration of the backcountry in the Upper Gunnison Valley is of great concern after a very busy summer in Crested Butte and the number of visitors the roads, trail heads and wilderness have been forced to accommodate.

To address the issues at hand and get a better idea for others that could arise in the future, the Board of County Commissioners, representatives from Gunnison County Public Works, U.S. Forest Service and the Mt. Crested Butte Police will meet at the Gothic townsite next week, and the communications director for Congressman Scott Tipton (U.S. Rep. – Colo.) said a member of Tipton’s staff would be there. The meeting will start at noon on Tuesday, August 25 in the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) Community Center. The public is also invited to attend and take part in the discussion.

The meeting will take place at Gothic, but problems in that drainage closely reflect what’s been going on in Washington Gulch, Slate River Valley, and other local drainages.

The increasingly large number of backcountry travelers has impacted RMBL, the ranching community, and traffic, to name just a few, and will continue to be problematic unless local authorities can make collaborative decisions and regulations of sorts can be put in place. County manager Matthew Birnie says he cannot predict any outcomes from the meeting, but he thinks it will be the start of conversations that will spawn more specific discussions going forward.

Ian Billick, director at RMBL, has witnessed the damage done by such an influx of visitors to the Gothic area first-hand. He says one of the things that needs to be discussed is how much can be done in the short term and how much should be a broad planning effort. “Enforcement at current levels isn’t anywhere close to what’s needed for the number of people coming through,” he said.

Speeding has been a problem on all roads leading into the backcountry. Human waste disposal is worsening. So is driving, riding, and hiking off-road, which damages wildflowers, soil matter and other precious resources. And far too many people have been camping in sites other than those designated by the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management.

Billick says RMBL doesn’t know how much they care for reducing access to Gothic Road. He hopes the Forest Service can clarify what it is they’re really managing for and that a specific plan designating projects and guidelines for enforcement can come of this discussion and any that follow.

“I think one of the biggest problems is that both the Forest Service and the county are overwhelmed in terms of enforcement,” Billick said. “When we call down and say we’ve got trespassers, or we’ve got issues, there usually isn’t anybody to respond.”

Billick added that although speeding is an issue, no tickets were written this year. “There are some things we can control. Given some of the numbers we’ve seen up here, we’re going to do what we can.”

Billick says he’s surprised there has been such little reaction in letters to the newspaper editor regarding the proposal to reduce access to Gothic Road. “I know a couple got letters in, but I kind of expected more,” he said. “Maybe the meeting next week will bring some people out of the woodwork.”

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