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How Colorado's Outdoors Are Being Loved To Death - A KUNC Special Report

White River National Forest

More visitors came to Colorado last year than ever before -- almost 78 million people -- and that brought more than 19 billion dollars to  the economy. Trails and hot springs are overflowing with people. Formerly pristine ecosystems are being damaged by people who don’t understand how fragile they are.


How did we get here? And what can we do to change course? We examine the problems, and possible solutions, in a 30 minute special presentation.


PART ONE: The Hundred Year Mandate


Credit Ann Marie Awad / KUNC
A view of Rocky Mountain National Park from two miles above sea level, where sunlight is nearly walled off by dense fog.

To understand how Colorado’s natural areas lure millions of people each year, we turned to Patty Limerick. She’s the state historian and with the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center of the American West. We talked about Stephen Mather, the first Director of the National Parks Service, and someone who predicted this very problem 100 years ago, upon their founding. Listen here.

PART TWO: Trashing The Place



Credit Luke Runyon / KUNC
Conundrum Hot Springs

Picture this: You're in a warm pool of water, elbow to elbow with dozens of other people. There's music, drinking, general mayhem. Oh, and maybe you’re naked. If you’re picturing a Spring Break party, you’re wrong. Try Conundrum Hot Springs outside Aspen, Colorado. Listen here.

PART THREE: Please, Refrain From Parking on the Tundra

Credit Courtesy of the National Parks Service
78 million people came to Colorado last year.

Rocky Mountain National Park is a short drive from the booming population centers of the Front Range - meaning it’s especially vulnerable. Nearly 7,000 people go to RMNP every day, which means visitors looking for the solitude of the great outdoors need to work even harder to find it in the park, and officials have few solutions. Listen here.

PART FOUR: #hanginglake

Credit White River National Forest
White River National Forest
Hanging Lake, White River National Forest

Hanging Lake is one of Colorado’s most-visited mountain jewels. A search of Instagram yields 44,000 photos with the #hanginglake hashtag. But attention on social media may do more harm than good to this unique ecosystem. Listen here.

EPILOGUE: What's Next

KUNC reporters Ann Marie Awad, Jackie Fortier, and Luke Runyon spoke about some of the big takeaways and things they learned during their reporting. Listen here.

The conversation continues on Facebook and on Twitter. Use #lovedtodeath to find even more photos and listener reactions.



KUNC's Michael de Yoanna and Erin O'Toole sort through listener reactions to Loved to Death.

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