National Forest Week (July 11-17) was started four years ago by the National Forest Foundation to “celebrate our incredible 193-million-acre National Forest System and all the benefits it provides to the public.”
How do we responsibly celebrate our surroundings?
Sam Massman, White River National Forest recreation program manager, said educating the public about responsible recreation is the first step.
“I always point to the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace (LNT). It’s a well-packaged way to educate the public, including someone new to outdoor recreation. It tells you what to do, how to be considerate of others, prepare, respect wildlife, potential impacts that come along with certain activities and how you can plan,” he said.
The White River National Forest, the most-visited forest in the country, runs north and south along the corridor from the Eisenhower Tunnel to the town of Rifle. It is divided into five range districts: Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale, Marble and Snowmass.
If you’re planning a trip to a National Forest, Massman “would encourage people who are trying to figure out the basics of what they want to do and where they want to go to start with a phone call to the district office.”
In addition to managing field programs and outdoor recreation throughout the White River district, the staff is available to answer questions about regulations that apply to vehicle use, which campgrounds require reservations and what permits or passes are needed for iconic destinations like the Maroon Bells Scenic Area and Hanging Lake. Massman added, “They can suggest places to go, depending on what you like to do.”
If familiarizing yourself with the forest sounds like fun work to you, know that White River currently has job openings. As Massman explained, “We are in the same job environment as the rest of the country right now.” Employment opportunities can be found at USAjobs.gov, the federal hiring portal.
There are sometimes concerns with people drinking alcohol or using drugs while camping or participating in outdoor recreational activities. About 50 teams of volunteer search and rescue (SAR) professionals across Colorado respond to calls from local law enforcement to conduct search and rescue missions in Colorado’s backcountry.
Jeff Sparhawk, executive director of the Colorado Search and Rescue Association (CSAR), said, “While I suspect that many [SAR] teams may have stories, here in Boulder, we have a history of subjects on shrooms or acid wandering around naked in the Flatirons thinking they can fly, or freaking out and curled up in a ball.”
Statistics are not tracked on whether or not drug use while recreating leads to more rescue calls. Sparhawk said, “While there is a long history of stoner shacks utilized by in-bounds and backcountry skiers, anecdotally, I am not aware of an increase in backcountry SAR calls in the vicinity of these shacks.”
Jordan White, president of Mountain Rescue Aspen, said, “It’s not like Aspen doesn’t have its share of recreational drugs, but it’s not usually, as far as we can tell, been an issue when we’re in the backcountry, it’s not something that I can point to as a regular occurrence.”
Carrying a satellite messenger — a personal, real-time beacon locator — while exploring the backcountry can save your life. White emphasized, “They are kind of their own safety net, so if you are hurt, you are lost, at least we know where you are. Once you send the message, it gives us your GPS location.”
When they get called out on a rescue, White explained, “people can be super well-prepared, but still, things can happen, and you can get hurt, but those that are well-prepared are much better equipped to wait out a rescue than somebody who is ill-prepared.”
Travis Duncan, public information supervisor at Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), explained one problem in Pueblo is drownings. He said, “People were swimming in the reservoir, where swimming isn’t allowed and got themselves in trouble, most likely dying of hypothermia” due to the cold temperatures of alpine lakes.
Duncan explained that, since the beginning of the pandemic, they are seeing more inexperienced outdoor users. “I think a lot of folks found a lot of healing value from getting out into the outdoors, and folks have been getting out there since then. It’s an education issue, and new users don’t always understand.”
Every summer, CPW does a responsible recreation campaign to talk about outdoor usage, talk about leave no trace principles and to promote “taking an outdoor ethic with you whenever you go outside,” Duncan said.
CPW also has educational resources for living with wildlife species, including what to do if you encounter a bear or mountain lion on a trail.
Massman suggested that if community members have concerns about recreation impacts on our local forests, volunteering with one of the White Rivers partnership groups like Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association, Independence Pass Foundation and Forest Conservancy, to name a few, “helps steward the White River and is a great way to give back.”
For information about the White River National Forest, go to www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver
For Colorado Parks and Wildlife, go to cpw.state.co.us
Seven Principles of Leave No Trace*
Know before you go
Stick to trails
Leave it as you find it
Trash the trash
Be careful with fire
Keep wildlife wild
Share the trails and parks
*this version of LNT was developed for Colorado travelers in a partnership between the Colorado Tourism Office and Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics