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230 Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum 2010-05-19

South Colony Basin

The Pike & San Isabel Forests in Colorado have proposed a new fee for day use and overnight use in the South Colony Basin of the Sangre de Cristo Range. The area is home to several popular 14ers - Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, and Humboldt. The fees are supposed to help offset the costs of the recreational environmental impact to the area which are estimated at about $100,000. My gut reaction is aren’t we already paying taxes??? Do we need to pay more?

In 2009 the area saw a few renovations. The access road was closed a couple of miles down from the old 4wd trailhead, a parking area was provided near the gate, and a fee area campground was built. Limiting the access caused much boohooing on popular web sites. The users were upset that they could no longer drive to the upper trailhead. Installing the gate might be all that is required to help regulate the number of people hiking to the lakes and peaks. We can only hope.

Our visit to the South Colony Basin was pleasant. The South Colony Basin had been used, but was in better condition than some of the other mountains.

During our 2009 summer trip we visited 54 or so of the 14,000 foot mountains in Colorado. Before the trip I thought there was a correlation between ease of access and impact. But, the most impacted area we saw was overwhelmingly, Snowmass Lake. Oddly enough, the lake is about eight miles from the trailhead. The Chicago Basin also showed a lot of wear. The access to Chicago Basin is even more difficult than to Snowmass as it requires an expensive train ride and a seven mile hike. Maybe the distance from the trailhead does not effect the impact on the area.

One thing we did notice was camping does impact an area. The mountains which had trails but only limited camping areas, did not seem nearly as impacted as those areas which were considered camping destinations. The users are staying in the area for at least one night, possibly building a fire (whether it is permitted or not), making a or using a campsite. The impact is obvious.

Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most used mountains in Colorado. Longs Peak is also a great example of low impact recreational use. On good weather weekends, it is almost crazy, just how crowded it is. In the pre-dawn hours, miles of headlamps bob and weave along the path, as the pilgrims slowly climb toward their holy grail. Despite the throngs, Longs Peak is one of the least impacted areas that we saw. Why?

Good trails - well, great trails. Their trails are engineered and not just the line of least resistance. The well designed trails beckon hikers to use them. The hiker doesn’t want to shortcut or get off the trail, because the well constructed trail keeps the hiker contained by design.

Privies - put a toilet down along the trail, and the hikers will flock to use it. Most backcountry novices even prefer the comfort of a plastic rimmed seat. Of course the composting toilets are costly and still require upkeep. The lines at the Boulderfield on Longs are at time comical.

Enforcement Figures - a ranger or the equivalent. During our summer trip, the only enforcement figures we saw were in Rocky Mountain National Park at Longs Peak. The rangers climb Longs Peak and police all of the areas. The rangers assist hikers, check camping permits, and are a presence.

In the South Colony Basin, the Forest Service is proposing trail improvements, WAG bags instead of privies, and a patrolling ranger. The proposal seems like it has benefits. If the collected money is actually spent on the area, I would not be absolutely opposed to the fees. It would make for an expensive trip though. Under the proposed fees, a three day, two night stay would be $50 per person!

If the collected fees are not used for the Basin then, fee, fi, fo, fum; I smell the blood of a taxing man!

Happy free trails.


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