Possibly Covid has been an event that has accelerated increased use, and perhaps will fundamentally alter both the way federal lands are managed, and the way that we recreationists plan and go about our activities. This will require more management by land managers than ever before. Even National Parks like Rocky Mountain are going to reservations to drive through, or timed entry, so the managed is getting more managed, and the relatively unmanaged is going toward managed. Please add any links to your local recreation news on dealing with crowds in the comments below.
Scott Fitzwilliams, Forest Supervisor on the White River:
Surging visitation is putting pressure on recreation resources at a time when there are fewer people to protect them. Fitzwilliams said he wishes he had more staff for public engagement, patrols and enforcement, but his budget is half of what it was 10 years ago.
“More and more of the national budget has been going toward fire suppression,” Fitzwilliams said. “The big pot stays relatively the same, but every year we’re spending more on fire, and that means less for the other resources. We would like to have more boots on the ground, more people to monitor, enforce, educate. It’s just not what we have. We’re going to do our best, given the resources we have.”..
“It’s a little intimidating as we head toward the busy season,” Fitzwilliams said of the staff shortage. “Combining less staff with more and more visitors to the forest, it’s tough. I don’t think we’re meeting the public’s expectations. When you have people breaking the rules or leaving trash or leaving fires unattended, they call us (and say), ‘You’ve got to catch these people.’ There are only so many of us.”
Here’s one from the Colorado Sun:
The Arapaho Roosevelt National Forests closed dispersed camping sites on Guanella Pass near Mount Bierstadt in 2018, shifting the area to day-use only and the transition has reduced impacts in the alpine region, said Clear Creek County Commissioner Randy Wheelock.
Wheelock, who moved to the county 50 years ago, said he’s been seeing “radical increases” in crowds over the last several years, with thousands of hikers on Mount Bierstadt and Grays and Torreys peaks every summer and fall weekend.
Last summer Wheelock saw cars parked for three miles on the Forest Service road leading to the Grays and Torreys trailhead.
“I think COVID wasn’t just giving us a glimpse of the future,” he said. “It was ushering the future in even sooner.”
. This article in WyoFile talks about Wyoming recreation.
To alleviate impacts, Wyoming land managers are relying heavily on educating visitors to plan ahead, keep expectations realistic, be better stewards of the land and wildlife and be more considerate of one another.
In 2020, “we learned that communicating around Responsible Recreation may help to address those impacts and widespread messaging with and through our partners is extremely helpful in this respect,” BTNF spokesperson Cernicek wrote.
Her agency is using #recreateresponsibly and www.recreateresponsibly.org to share information with the public, she wrote. That message is being touted across the state; The Wyoming Office of Tourism will launch its second summer of the WY Responsibly campaign June 1.
In other areas of the U.S. dealing with overuse, land managers have implemented new permit systems or even closed trails. Shoshone National Forest Public Affairs Officer Kristie Salzmann hopes that the situation in Wyoming does not warrant those types of measures.
“Right now, we are hoping that the need for any of that doesn’t come to fruition,” Salzmann wrote in an email. “We are focusing on education right now to ensure we do the best we can to get out information about things that make the Shoshone National Forest unique …” such as food storage and fragile vegetation.
O’Connor, however, hasn’t ruled out limits.
“I would say, you know, in a nutshell, clearly there are places for limits, and I don’t want to say that limits aren’t something we should be thinking about,” she said during the virtual conference. “But we really do need to focus on some of those other factors first.”
With the BTNF’s current inventory, she said, “there’s much more demand for camping than we can provide. I go back to … we’re not serving people, if we encourage them to come but there’s really no place to stay.”