Series: Loved To Death

Luke Runyon / KUNC

Citing pounds of garbage, piles of human waste and illegal campfires, the U.S. Forest Service has announced draft rules that would limit the number of overnight campers to popular spots in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area near Aspen.

Before the summer of 2018 the Forest Service plans to implement a permit system that would require backpackers to purchase a reservation to camp overnight in the Conundrum valley, home to the heavily-trafficked Conundrum Hot Springs.

White River National Forest

An activewear company will be supporting a public outreach campaign after paying over $300 in fines for breaking the rules at Hanging Lake in Western Colorado.

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.

 

Luke Runyon / KUNC

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.

Is Social Media Spoiling Colorado's Hanging Lake?

Aug 25, 2016
White River National Forest

Clear mountain water cascades into a greenish blue lake, with pines dangling over the edge. Even for Colorado, it’s unique. Hanging Lake is described as a jewel in the White River National Forest.  For many years, it was an unspoken secret that only Coloradans knew.

But there’s a problem. The secret is out.

Courtesy of the National Parks Service

The Alpine Visitors Center is the busiest visitor’s center in all of Rocky Mountain National Park, where roughly 7,000 people come every day to take in the views. But it’s also a symbol of a park changing with growing demand - more people means more litter, more noise and fewer parking spaces. 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.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

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.

The high alpine pool draws thousands of visitors from around the world every summer and fall. As visitation numbers spike, the U.S. Forest Service, the federal agency tasked with maintaining the area’s wild character, says the hot springs’ popularity threatens the very things that make it unique. 

Luke Runyon / KUNC

Nearly 78 million visitors hit popular spots in Colorado in 2015. They pumped more than $19 billion into the economy, according to the state’s tourism office, but that money comes with a dark side for wild places.

Once-hidden hot springs now overflow with people. Formerly pristine ecosystems are being damaged by people who don’t understand how fragile they are. And parking lots nearby are often packed before the sun comes up.

So how did we get to this point?