Survey of Chaffee leisure users reveals concerns about impacts of large camping groups – by Jan Wondra


Chaffee Recreation Adopters volunteers helped collect over 2,200 campground surveys this summer using a new mobile app created for stewardship work in Chaffee County. Program manager Joe Greiner, responsible for analyzing the thousands of surveys, says they reveal impacts and new camping behaviors; including huge campfires and much larger camping groups than you would normally see in the county.

Chaffee Rec Adopters Program Manager Joe Greiner measures the perimeter of a campsite in Fooses Creek drainage using the Campsite Collector app created for volunteer stewardship work and land management planning public under the Chaffee County Outdoor Recreation Management Plan

The Campsite Collector app was used by dozens of volunteers starting by mid-June and over a four-month period, all campsites along the county’s logging road network had been inspected. Greiner has trained more than 50 people in the use of the app and has organized group data blitz events twice a month. Volunteer “Adopters” also inspected the sites themselves after the training.

Impacts of size and access

Greiner, who was the owner of Wilderness Aware Rafting for more than three decades before his semi-retirement, said he was surprised to observe new camping behavior as he visited almost any camping area accessible by the road this summer. The groups are much larger, and perhaps as a result, so are the campfires.

“People can put a pin in one place and say to all their friends, ‘Hey, this is where we’re camping this weekend’, so it often became a group activity instead of an activity. of escape. , “he said. The popularity of group RV camping has also increased the impact size of the site. He added that he had frequently observed up to 30 vehicles parked on weekends in a single wooded area. .

“With large groups, a ring of fire should be five or six feet wide so that everyone can sit around,” he said. “It’s high impact because they drive vehicles through the grass and the forest and make bonfires in huge fireplaces.”

The information from the investigation includes the square footage of the ground disturbance, the number of campfire rings, evidence of garbage and human waste, etc. The data is aggregated into an online dashboard with searchable maps (see graph), providing the ability to easily visualize where the highest concentrations of camping areas in the county are.

“There are only a half-dozen to a dozen areas in the county that have a high concentration of camping use, and these are all accessible by roads,” Greiner said. “In the future, managing the impacts of scattered camping can be targeted without having to travel all the county roads, now that we’ve mapped the sites.”

Next spring, the Adopters program is slated to move from data collection to stewardship work. Greiner said the majority of campsites surprisingly don’t have a lot of waste, given the increased usage. “We talk about trash because it leaves a bad impression, but heaps of RV waste such as cardboard plates and leftover food are the exception, not the rule,” he said.

Instead, the “trashed” sites appear to be caused by parties or picnics. “You might see a fireplace with a dozen cans of beer in it, or it looks like the waste left behind is from a long-term residential stay,” he said. About 30 campsites across the county have been flagged this year for potential residential use.

The impacts of greater concern involve the expansion of bare soil caused by vehicles driving over grass and in wooded areas, dirty piles of ash and human waste, and multiple rings of fire, Greiner said.

Aggregate data from this year’s surveys shows 3,800 gallons of garbage, 550 piles of human waste and 7,000 damaged trees in and around campsites accessible by county road, as well as nearly 200 acres of bare land – the size 150 football pitches.

Volunteers helped collect over 2,200 campground surveys this summer, illustrated by the blue dots. They found 3,800 gallons of garbage, 550 piles of human waste, 7,000 damaged trees and nearly 200 acres of bare land from driving and camping in the forest.

Fun – and not so fun – facts about the scattered Chaffee County campsite:

  • The county has 2,218 sites along the roads
  • Cottonwood Creek drainage above Cottonwood Lake has the most sites at 32 per mile
  • The Shavano region has the highest concentration of sites per acre
  • 260 gallons of trash were saved in the 100,000-acre Fourmile Recreation Area
  • 30 sites have been flagged for potential residential use this summer

Greiner handled every data blitz event and collected numerous surveys himself. “The typical reaction from visitors was the pleasure that someone took the time to manage these sites so that they could stay open, instead of being ransacked and the government feeling like the only alternative was to shut them down. . “

Chaffee ‘Adopters’ helps inform public land management and stewardship
Providing high quality, low impact camping opportunities is one of the primary goals outlined in the Chaffee County Outdoor Recreation Management Plan. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), US Forest Service (USFS), and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) are working together as part of the Chaffee Rec Council to envision community-supported camping solutions that maintain outdoor recreation clean, fun and wild in the future. .

Friends of Fourmile’s volunteers, Lyn Berry, left, and Jeannie Younghaus collect camping readings in Cottonwood Creek drainage.

Agencies will use the surveys to help inform new camping management strategies currently under consideration at the USFS, BLM, and the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA), a state park responsible for managing the land. federal within its boundaries along 150 miles of the Arkansas River. The agency’s actions are part of the “All Lands Camping” objective of the community plan, which aims to clean up over-exploited sites and to control the growth in the size and number of sites.

Chaffee Rec Adopter partners include USFS, BLM, CPW, AHRA, Colorado State Land Board, Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA), and Envision Chaffee County. GARNA received a two-year grant from Chaffee Common Ground to develop the program. GARNA increased volunteer work thanks to part-time staff member Cat Anderson, who herself collected 400 camping surveys in some of the county’s most remote locations.

Almost 200 volunteers have signed up for Chaffee Rec Adopters, with great interest from friends of Fourmile and landowners who live close to public lands, particularly in the communities of Mesa Antero, Game Trail and St. Elmo. . In addition to doing surveys, volunteers can adopt scattered camping areas, similar to the USFS Adopt-A-Trail program.

Beyond the thousands of campgrounds, campfires and gallons of trash, adopters have found several pit toilets illegal this summer, including a few elaborate installations. “One was a wooden box with a toilet seat over a hole someone hid in the trees,” Greiner said. “Another was a whole outhouse up a pass, with a broom and a bag of lime and a lock on the door and everything.”

To get involved with Chaffee Rec Adopters, visit

Friends of Fourmile’s volunteers, Lyn Berry, left, and Jeannie Younghaus collect camping readings in Cottonwood Creek drainage.

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