By Kim Phillips
Colorado’s mountains, trails, parks and back roads were flooded with an unprecedented number of visitors last year. Unfortunately, the crowds also damaged natural resources in a variety of ways. Garbage was left behind and stacked next to already overflowing dumpsters, campfires were left unattended and/or not extinguished properly, fragile areas like tundra and wetlands were trampled, consideration for other visitors was not adhered to, and users drove off established roads and cut across hiking trails causing erosion issues.
While Colorado’s state and federal natural resources agencies encourage everyone to get outside, visitors venturing into the great outdoors must take responsibility and care for our precious natural resources.
“We’d like to encourage folks to review and refresh themselves with the Leave No Trace principles,” said Chad Stewart, forest supervisor of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests. “Please recreate responsibly, pack it in — pack it out, stay on the trail, plan ahead, arrive early and have a “Plan B” for camping options. We expect to see high visitation again this year and are relying heavily on users to assist land managers with managing the great outdoors. Enjoy your public lands.”
Staff from public lands agencies and other partners, including the GMUG National Forests, Bureau of Land Management, San Juan National Forest, National Park Service, Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, West Region Wildfire Council and all western slope mountain-area counties, are working together to convey the “leave no trace” and recreate responsible messages to residents and out-of-state visitors. Everyone can be a good outdoor steward by staying focused on how each of us impacts the land; we are all in this together.
Before you head out on your next adventure, please make note of this checklist and show you care for Colorado’s public lands:
• Know before you go: Plan ahead, arrive early, be prepared and have a “Plan B” for camping options. Make sure you know if you’ll be able to find a place to park, what type of gear you’ll need and check the weather report.
• Plan trip activities to match your skills, abilities, gear and goals. Hiking a 14er is much more challenging than a forest hike; hydrate early and often.
• Driving an OHV? Stay the trail, know what trails are open, be courteous to other users, slow down, don’t create new trails, drive slowly through creeks and muddy patches and don’t trespass.
• When hiking, be courteous to other trail users, don’t short-cut trails or create new ones, stay on established trails and stay off sensitive areas such as the tundra, wetlands and steep slopes.
• When hiking with your dog, be sure to “scoop the poop” and carry it out. Don’t leave poop bags on the trail.
• Know the stay limits for the area you are visiting. Campsites can be occupied for no more than 14 consecutive days, then the site must be moved at least 3 miles away. Camping is also limited to 28 days in a 60-day period.
• Leave what you find. Don’t pick wildflowers, take only pictures.
• Read signs at trailheads and abide by instructions. Please observe all closures.
• When car camping in dispersed areas, avoid camping within 100 feet of water, keep your camping “footprint” small, camp in areas that have already been disturbed if possible, be sure to put fires out completely — don’t leave them smoldering, pack out all garbage.
• Be “Bear Aware” when camping. Don’t leave food out when you’re not at camp. Lock food in vehicles, out of view or in bear proof containers; keep a clean camp; never take food into your tent.
• Wherever you’re camping, be considerate of others; consider how your experience is affecting the way someone else enjoys the outdoors.
• When camping in the backcountry, camp well away from water, don’t build fire rings, be bear aware, pack it in — pack it out.
• Never leave a campfire unattended.
• Observe wildlife from a distance; if you see baby animals, don’t approach them or pick them up — they haven’t been abandoned.
• When fishing, do not leave bait, hooks or fish bones on the bank of the river or lake. Pick up all fishing line to prevent animals from getting tangled in it.
• Talk to your children or those new to the outdoors about responsible recreation.