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The environment desk at Aspen Public Radio covers issues in the Roaring Fork Valley and throughout the state of Colorado including water use and quality, impact of recreation, population growth and oil and gas development. APR’s Environment Reporter is Elizabeth Stewart-Severy.

Backcountry permitting system likely in Maroon Bells Wilderness

Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

The U.S. Forest Service has released a draft management plan to address overcrowding in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Backpackers will likely see a permitting system in popular areas.

The plan defines the maximum number of groups that can camp at one time in 30 different areas across the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Groups are already required to register at the trailhead, and the agency will use this information to track the number of campers. The plan does not affect day use.

Kay Hopkins, recreation planner for the White River National Forest, said that if the use of those spots exceeds that threshold, “It could indeed set the stage to trigger a permit system.”

Use of popular areas, like Conundrum Hot Springs, Crater Lake and the Four Pass Loop, has increased by nearly 300 percent since 2006. The Forest Service plan states that, in many places, the landscape can’t sustain that many people.

“We’re just getting a lot of resource damage, from tree cutting, campsite proliferation, human waste, trash, a lot of abandoned campsites,” Hopkins said. “It’s just increasing every year.”

The Forest Service is required by the 1964 Wilderness Act to preserve the wild character of these backcountry areas and has been monitoring overnight stays in the Maroon Bells Wilderness since 2003. That data will be used in an upcoming environmental analysis.

After that study, the agency may move to a permitting system as soon as this spring, but there will be no fees — at least for the first year.  

The public has 30 days to comment on the plan, and there will be an open house Tuesday, Nov. 15 at the Basalt Library.

Click here to view the full Forest Service plan.


Aspen native Elizabeth Stewart-Severy is excited to be making a return to both the Red Brick, where she attended kindergarten, and the field of journalism. She has spent her entire life playing in the mountains and rivers around Aspen, and is thrilled to be reporting about all things environmental in this special place. She attended the University of Colorado with a Boettcher Scholarship, and graduated as the top student from the School of Journalism in 2006. Her lifelong love of hockey lead to a stint working for the Colorado Avalanche, and she still plays in local leagues and coaches the Aspen Junior Hockey U-19 girls.
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