Special places require special access
Some places create their own political gravity. To a 21st century Aspenite, it’s shocking to think that at one time you could drive a car up near the shore of Maroon Lake and park on a mowed-over piece of tundra. So special are the Maroon Bells that multiple government agencies came together some 40 years ago to put a shuttle bus system in place, along with parking restrictions, and now it’s expected that if you want to go, you park at Highlands and buy a ticket. Nothing particularly shocking or controversial about it. That same thinking was recently applied to Conundrum Hot Springs, a natural wonder 8 miles up the trail at 11,200 feet for which you now must obtain one of a limited number of permits for the pleasure of sleeping on the ground nearby. These decisions were made because the places are so spectacular that in the absence of restrictions, they cannot support the number of people who want to visit them without spoiling the qualities that bring the visitors in the first place.
The debate about whether and how to limit recreational access has now made its way to the most remote corner of the Elk Mountains, near Marble and the headwaters of the Crystal River. The kind of recreation in question, detailed in our recent story, isn’t hiking or backpacking, but riding a motorized off-highway vehicle over narrow, treacherous roads running through a pristine landscape, skirting the boundaries of the Maroon Bell Snowmass Wilderness. The Lead King Loop is one of an increasingly limited number of high country roads in the vicinity of the Roaring Fork Valley where OHV travel is allowed and use has exploded over the last half-dozen summers. What to do about that is the talk of the town, with some calling for an outright ban and others raising concerns about unintended consequences. A committee of local government officials and other stakeholders have been working on the issue for nearly two years and have established a plan where the Forest Service, which manages most of the loop’s terrain, will staff additional ranger patrols in the area, made possible by a $10,000 grant from the town and county.
Most people involved in the process will say that additional education and enforcement of existing rules is but an incremental step toward the end goal of a permit system. That would take an extensive public process and data collection documenting negative impacts to convince skeptics that such a step is needed. A campaign selling the idea to OHV users could also help. The convening report released by the steering committee, put together by a master’s student at Western Colorado University, included a composite sketch of the loop’s motorized users. At least half come from the greater Roaring Fork Valley or have family ties to the area, they tend to believe they are already regulated enough, and many present as pro-environment, despite any ills that come from their toys of choice. Framing the message as protecting the landscape “for,” rather than “from,” recreation — and that regulation is necessary to protect the experience and therefore in the user’s best interests — is likely to lead to greater compliance.
— Curtis Wackerle, editor
By Curtis Wackerle | April 19, 2021
An academic study found broad-based concern among residents about “degraded quality of life” related to the increasing number of visitors. Read more
By Heather Sackett | April 16, 2021
The reservoir release also could have implications for a potential demand-management program, the feasibility of which the state is currently investigating. Read more
By Heather Sackett | April 15, 2021
Pitkin County’s goal was to get more water into the habitually stressed reach of the Roaring Fork that flows through Aspen during the summer and fall. Read more
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