Sharing The View: A Difficult Time For Colorado's Loved To Death Places

Aug 26, 2016

It’s clear that residents and visitors love Colorado’s incredible outdoor spaces. Recreation is great for the state’s economy, but it can be a double-edged sword when too many people come to enjoy Colorado’s most cherished places.

 

KUNC News explored the challenges of keeping places open and encouraging visitation while at the same time protecting the fragile beauty of our favorite spots in the series Loved To Death.

 

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

 

Conundrum Hot Springs is a perfect example of a spot that once was well hidden, one of those "locals only" places that is now overrun most weekends.

 

"Conundrum is a really extreme example of that exact paradox. It’s a place that’s taken on a reputation of being a party spot, but it’s deep in the wilderness. And for a really long time the Forest Service has been pretty hands-off and that’s led to huge crowds at Conundrum. Now they’re looking at issuing some sort of permit system to control the number of people there. You’d have to get it beforehand, you’d have to pay a little money, and then you’d be able to go to Conundrum. This isn’t really a new problem; it’s a historic problem that a lot of other places in the country are dealing with – places like Yosemite National Park in California. There’s lots of people there. If you want to explore lots of different parts of Yosemite, you need to get a permit before you go out. And with Colorado growing rapidly, it’s going to be a problem for us, too." - Luke Runyon

Portions of the trail to Hanging Lake have widened from 2 to 8 feet from the constant pounding of hiking boots.
Credit White River National Forest

People’s use of social media has some unintended consequences. One of the interesting things in your piece was that officials may use it to help fix the problem.

"White River National Forest officials, where Hanging Lake is located, are going to use social media to ask people what they think should be done about the overcrowding problem at Hanging Lake. It’s kind of a little bit of using the poison to cure the problem. But it’s not just these iconic, legendary places feeling the brunt. Parking lots have acted as a type of a visitor cap not just at places like Hanging Lake, but at open spaces in Larimer and Boulder Counties. Now officials I’ve talked to have said that they see parking lots that fill up by 8 a.m. It’s becoming competitive to visit natural areas in our own backyard. Solutions differ, but shuttle buses keep coming up." - Jackie Fortier

There are over 44,000 pictures of Hanging Lake just on Instagram.
Credit White River National Forest

 

Rocky Mountain National Park is seeing record visitation. What about possible solutions?

 

“The solutions are the tough part – especially when you’re talking about the Park Service. Jackie mentioned shuttles; well, there are shuttles in Rocky Mountain National Park through the Bear Lake corridor, which is one of the most popular areas of the park. And there has been a suggestion in recent years to add more shuttles, but more shuttles equals more people and more problems.

 

Then there are also these ideas about capping visitorship daily, or raising the fees to deal with that, and that’s where you get kind of an ideological divide in the National Park Service – where they have this mandate, this 100-year-old mandate, to make these spaces available for everybody. But if you’re making them more expensive, you’re making them available for a certain quadrant of the population. Solutions are tough. Melanie Armstrong, the professor at Western State Colorado University that I talked with, had said that her hope – as a former employee of the Park Service – is that her students, who are becoming land managers in future generations, will come up with creative solutions that she and her colleagues may not have thought of.” - Ann Marie Awad

Park visitors board shuttle bus at Bear Lake.
Credit Rachel Williams / Rocky Mountain National Park