photo by Lydia Stern

We can’t say no, but we can say how…

As schools have started up in other places, we can all feel the pressure release. There are fewer campers, bikers and backcountry users. There is air to breathe. But we should not get lulled into complacency. Now is the time to address the growing crowd issue and all that came with it as we saw in the heart of summer.

photo by Lydia Stern
photo by Lydia Stern

So a Gunnison County Commissioners’ work session is scheduled in Gothic this coming Tuesday at noon to hash out the summer’s over-the-top busyness in the surrounding backcountry and the ramifications of that busyness. Representatives of the county, the town, the Forest Service, U.S. Representative Scott Tipton’s office, various non-profit groups and the public will be there.

Let’s hope there is more than just talk. This summer saw some crazy at times. There were times when there was overuse of the backcountry with every conceivable camping spot tented. The few pit toilets located out there were filled regularly. Vehicles were cutting through wildflower meadows or RMBL research sites. If the increases continue, there won’t be a backcountry worth visiting after a few more summers. So it is really common sense to address the issue now and not wait until it is too late.

Now, I understand and agree that we can’t tell people not to come and check out their public lands—but I feel we can educate them and even regulate them on how to use their public lands and prepare for the increasing numbers that want to experience them. Honestly, we who live here are stewards of these public treasures and there is a responsibility that goes with that distinction. We see the impacts long after the family from St. Louis is back home sweltering in the city.

We can find the money for more toilets in the backcountry campgrounds. We can ask the Forest Service to support a public transportation plan to places like Judd Falls. We can ask for permitted dispersed camping in high-impact areas like the Slate and Gothic corridors. Maybe rules should be implemented on where people can do things like shoot guns, given the increasing numbers of hikers, bikers and campers. Is it time to prohibit traffic during the day to Gothic? It is sure worth discussing.

When the Crested Butte–Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce is saying that the number of visitors to the Four-way Stop in July went from 8,650 in 2010 to 12,049 in 2015, there are obviously more traffic and more people at this end of the valley. More people mean more impacts, both in the towns and in the backcountry. It would be foolish to not address the impacts while we still have a chance to get a handle on the situation.

On a related topic—the new Gunsight Connector Trail is temporarily closing for a few weeks starting Thursday, August 20. The parcel will be home to cattle. Cattle and bikes don’t mix well, so let’s all respect this shared use on a great trail. In theory, it will reopen in mid-September—perfect for a colorful ride.

Also, the Snodgrass Trail is shutting down for the season to hikers and bikers Sunday, August 23 at sunset. It is still one of the best portals to magic in the valley, so go get it—until you can’t. That means before Sunday at 7:55 p.m.

I am encouraged that the county commissioners are holding a discussion about summer impacts on our backcountry and it will be attended by a cross-section of stakeholders. I am glad they are holding it in one of the places most affected by the changes.

More important, I trust there will be more than talk that comes out of the discussion—but this first step is an important one.

—Mark Reaman

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