If you’ve spent time in Crested Butte over the past decade, you’ve likely noticed an increase in negative impacts in the drainages surrounding CB. You may have come across new illegal roads created by vehicles, meadows turned into dirt parking lots, tents, vans, and RVs crammed into any possible pull-off, and human waste and trash scattered in the forest or left behind after a weekend trip. Unfortunately, it can take years for these high alpine environments to recover.
In 2019, the Gunnison County Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation (STOR) Committee took a closer look at how to manage camping on the public lands around CB. After monitoring the impacts on local public lands and analyzing how similar recreation destinations have handled their situation, the STOR Committee recommended to the US Forest Service’s Gunnison Ranger District to move toward a “designated camping” plan. The STOR Committee is a community coalition created to maintain and improve tourism and outdoor recreation in an environmentally, socially, and financially sustainable manner. It is comprised of representatives from land management agencies, towns and municipalities, non-profit organizations, for-profit businesses, and other sectors of the community.
The system that has been in place in the north end of the Gunnison Valley for USFS-managed lands is called “dispersed camping”, which basically means you can pull over and pop up a tent anywhere you’d like. This system works with low numbers of campers in existing spots, but results in massive resource damage when too many people are packed into one area.
The ultimate authority on National Forest lands is the US Forest Service. The USFS has contracted with CBMBA’s Crested Butte Conservation Corps, and the CBCC has been awarded National Forest Foundation and Gunnison County Stewardship Fund grants specifically allocated to implement the designated camping project. With this funding, the CBCC has hired additional crewmembers to carry out the designated camping plan.
In 2020, 48 campsites were designated in the Washington Gulch drainage, and another 43 in the Slate River drainage. In 2021, there will be 41 designated in Brush Creek, 36 on Kebler Pass, 20 in Cement Creek, and 15 in Gothic. Campers should anticipate a reservation and fee system to be adopted in the near future to allow visitors to plan ahead.
A “designated campsite” has a wooden sign post with a number on it, a permanent fire ring, a specific parking area, and some are close to public bathrooms. New kiosks and road signs will be installed in each drainage to make visitors aware of the changes and new regulations. The goal of designated camping is to minimize the impacts of cars, humans, and camping to contain resource damage to approved areas.
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