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989 Everyone IS doing It
part 2

Mount Elbert overflow parking area

Mount Elbert Overflow Parking - SUV had trash on top of the car and coolers
sitting on the ground behind the vehicle.

(link to part one)

Everyone really is doing it. Climbing, hiking, scrambling, backpacking, mountain biking, trail running, mountaineering, kayaking, rafting, etc, are no longer extreme sports exercised by a few highly skilled elitist, now outdoor sports are popular.

On a summer visit to Colorado we stay at Elbert Creek Campground, near the trailhead of the highest peak in CO. We saw everyone doing it on Mount Elbert. In fact, climbing or rather hiking up mountains is so popular in Colorado that Fourteener (mountains above 14,000 feet) was chosen as the unique Colorado word by Yahoo. We visited the area on a late July weekend with the rare predication of zero percent chance of afternoon thunderstorms. Everyone came to the mountain, they all wanted to do it.

During our stay we spoke with the campground host on several occasions. The Forest Service outsources the maintenance and management of the campgrounds. The host worked for the company who had won the contract. He had no authority but lots of responsibility. For a few years now we have heard rumors that the Forest Service was going to start charging a fee for access. The host was full of the rumors. His thought was - there was simply too many users.

A few notes (but not necessarily any answers) on controlling the numbers ...

We have visited Wilderness Areas where a free permit was required. The permit system helped to monitor use.

With a permit system, someone has to check on the areas to make sure only permitted users are present. Monitors cost money.

The National Parks actually have rangers (or park employees) walking trails and checking on use. We don't remember anyone ever asking to check our permit, but we have spoken with many of the rangers.

In Colorado, outside of Rocky Mountain National Park and Indian Peaks Wilderness, in all of our years of hiking and climbing, we have never seen a ranger (that would be a National Forest Service Ranger) on the trails.

Certain areas have special regulations such as - no camping or campfires. We have seen hikers camped next to the "no" signs with a blazing fire.

Without monitoring, the rules, whether special regulations or a permit system, are only for those concerned about minimum impact. The others seem to think it is their right to break the meaningless rules.

Tourism is a big business. Businesses benefit from users visiting their area. The businesses want more people to come to the area, not less.

A fee based permit system would help to fund the monitoring process.

If a fee is charged, the users would want to see results in added facilities or monitors.

Permit systems are a pain for the users, but if monitored, the system controls the number of users.

The National Park Service (in most locations) charge an entrance fee and have a fee based permit system for backcountry use.

The National Park Service does a good job of monitoring permits - camping and trail.

Permit scalping should always be illegal.

Most of the Colorado Fourteeners are in the National Forest with no fees or permits.

A wilderness area where I grow up playing, changed to a permit system, and for good reason it was clearly overused. After 40 years the wilderness has reclaimed much of the abused land. The system worked.

Another idea takes a completely different approach. If the land managers closed all access roads and removed all facilities it would make using the area more difficult. The increased difficulty would deter many visitors.

A few things to do to avoid the crowds ...

Don't plan to visit the areas on weekends or holidays.

While on vacation it is very difficult not to visit on weekends, but for example we have for years used Saturdays for laundry, shopping, and travel.

Arrive early at the trailhead.

Use a non-standard route.

Always follow minimum impact usage.

There might be no perfect way to manage the numbers that go to the mountains. Each idea has pros and cons. For example a fee based system that prevents disadvantaged families from visiting is wrong. Though, if the numbers and abuse of the land continues, the fees and permit systems will come. The land managers have to find ways to preserve the land even if everyone is trying to do it!

Happy trails


(link to part one)


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