Year 2011 Activities – “More trail building, monitoring and responding to problem issues”
Chapter expresses views on proposals to open additional County roads to unlicensed OHVs
In February, 2012 public meetings, the Friends of Fourmile is presenting its views on a proposal by local OHV enthusiasts to open some 21 Chaffee County roads to unlicensed OHVs (ATVs and off-road motorcycles), some of which are within or lead to Fourmile. As a group which does its best to represent all recreational users, from non-motorized to motorized, we are working hard to see both sides of this issue, as we have since our formation over 9 years ago. Having over this spanspent more than 10,000 volunteer hours reaching out to user groups, contacting visitors, doing surveys, mapping resource issues, preparing and distributing brochures, trail building, sign maintenance, campsite control projects and in meetings with our Forest Service and BLM partners, we’ve gained a certain credibility with users and partners as well as elected officials. Here briefly is what we’re contributing to the discussion:
- Since a Travel Management Plan based on citizen input was approved in 2003, our Chapter, working with the agencies and other volunteer groups has made great progress in controlling earlier resource impacts associated with unregulated off-road driving and un-managed camping sites, and in educating user groups how to appropriately treat public lands .
- This good management plus over 180 miles of available designated motorized routes and dedicated OHV trails has become well-known to both local and Front Range visitors, particularly OHV enthusiasts, whose numbers have increased at least two to three-fold since 2003. While there has been marked improvement in compliance about sticking to designated routes and treating other users courteously, the remarkable increase in numbers and the style of OHV users camping in large recreational vehicles and trucks with trailers has led to dramatic increases in the number of camping sites, expansion of existing areas, and serious resource damage due to unregulated play by young OHV drivers. Excessive speed and aggressive driving by some motorcyclists remains a problem.
- Increased popularity of Fourmile with OHV users, especially on heavy use summer weekends when other users are also anxious to be out recreating, has led to alienation of some hikers, bicyclists, conventional 4×4 drivers and others seeking quieter human-powered forms of recreation. They now go elsewhere.
- Because the Chapter’s primary goals are good stewardship of the land and maintaining an equitable balance between different uses, we are expressing our concern over current proposals which would increase use by OHVsand keeping an eye on future trail proposals from the rapidly-expanding mountain-biking community. We feel that, although these activities are legitimate under the multiple recreational use policies of Fourmile’s FS and BLM managers, they should not be allowed to expand withoutaggressive attention to controlling their direct impacts (damage to existing roads and resources, or impacts of creating new designated routes) as well as their indirect impacts (campsite expansion and damage, crowding, new staging area development, and displacement of other users.)
- Our advice to County Commissioners who are considering granting requests of additional open routes in Fourmile is to proceed very cautiously and avoid the end result of “Loving Fourmile to death.” And although somewhat outside our mandate, we suggest the Commissioners look to the unintended consequences of having made Fourmile such a popular OHV area as a kind of heads up for other areas of the County where a similar story might unfold.
If interested in a detailed version of the Chapter’s position, including comments on specific roads, you can request it by emailing Alan Robinson at email@example.com.
Fourmile volunteers join BLM, VOC and other local groups to build Ruby Mountain trail
For the fourth time since 2005 the Friends of Fourmile had a major role in developing a new or rehabilitated hiking trail within Fourmile. This June 2011 effort, with the Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, was the culmination of 4 years of planning and design in conjunction with the BLM, Quiet Use Coalition, Backcountry Horsemen and others. It’s a 2 mile trail into the north end of the BLM’s Browns Canyon Wilderness Study Area (WSA), eliminating an unauthorized route that crossed private property. Since the WSA is managed as if it were designated Wilderness, the trail is open to hikers and horse users but does not permit motorized or mechanized vehicles, including bicycles. Starting at the BLM’s parking area just east of the Ruby Mountain AHRA campground it takes a moderately strenuous course south up and over a rocky ridge and offers spectacular views southeast over the WSA and Arkansas River as well as westward to the Collegiate Peaks. It was laid out by BLM, QUC and Friends volunteers to offer a rugged but easily followed trail consistent with the challenging conditions encountered in the WSA itself, where currently there are no maintained trails. Whether or not a wider formal Browns Canyon Wilderness is designated, this new trail will likely remain the most convenient and well-known northern entry into the WSA. In just the few months of the remaining 2011 summer, the trail has become well used and drawn high praise from local hikers.
Leave No Trace designates Fourmile as “Hot Spot” to focus on educating visitors
Late in 2011 the Chapter learned that Fourmile has been designated a “Hot Spot” from the nationally-known Leave No Trace program. This status will result in several thousand dollars’ worth of technical advice, training and educational materials which will assist local volunteers and agency staff in spreading the word of this very successful program, which seeks to educate public lands users on principles to follow in recreation and camping (http://www.lnt.org/programs/principles.php). In addition to national publicity through press releases, LNT staff will come to Buena Vista April 27-28, 2012 to do a local school program and then a training session in which volunteers from the Chapter and other local user groups as well as staff of the BLM and Forest Service will learn more about LNT principles, and more importantly, get advice on how to effectively communicate those lessons to the public during patrols and other visitor contacts. Over Memorial Day 2012 (see report below) the LNT folks will return to participate in visitor contacts and mentor volunteers as they deliver the LNT message. If GARNA members or others have a special interest in the Hot Spot training and wish to get involved, contact Lyn Berry and Jeanne Younghaus (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Fourmile brochure to get updated and a new look
Perhaps the most appreciated and successful activity of the Friends Chapter over the past 8 years has been production and distribution of large trailhead “kiosk”maps and an informational brochure. To date some 50,000 Fourmile brochures have been produced and distributed, with writing and design by volunteers and printing costs underwritten by the agencies, grants, and public donations. Of those 50,000 only a handful have been found discarded along the roads and trails. (Copies of the brochure as well as ones we’ve produced for the Whipple Trail system in Buena Vista and the 18 mile Midland Bicycle Trail can be downloaded from links in the Chapter Summary above.) Kiosk maps at eight different entry points have been maintained and maps updated as conditions change.
In 2012, before the summer season starts, we plan on a major revision of the Fourmile brochure, updating and expanding it to reflect the Forest Services’ Motor Vehicle Use Map (which shows routes designated for motorized and non-motorized use and is used in law enforcement) and any county roads that might be open to unlicensed OHVs. It will also contain Leave No Trace messages adapted to our situation, advice on how to behave responsibly while driving roads and motorized trails, safety and emergency information, and local area history. It may even go modern and include one of those little coded icons which can be scanned by a smart phone which leads you to the GARNA website and more information! We’ll give a link to the revised brochure as soon as it’s completed.
Camping guidelines approved and posted in heavy use areas
After development and review with the agencies, a set of guidelines for responsible camping has been approved by both the BLM and Forest Service. With poster printing costs covered by the Chapter and the large wooden kiosks provided by the Forest Service, three such guideline kiosks have been installed at critical locations to encourage campers not to expand current impacted sites, to control young OHV drivers in camp, be safer with fire and how to deal with trash and sanitation. This is one tool in the agencies’ toolbox of measures to help control unintended consequences of rapidly increasing camping with large vehicles and groups that has become so popular.
Memorial Day Weekend surveys: contacting visitors and assessing changing use patterns
For the past 8 years Fourmile volunteers have joined BLM, Forest Service and other volunteers in a concerted effort to patrol, observe and contact visitors on Memorial Day weekends. Overall these have been very positive events, well received by visitors, and they have confirmed many improvements in resource conditions and visitor compliance with regulations.In 2009 volunteers instituted informal “windshield” surveys to collect information on type of use, number of vehicles of different types, number of campsites occupied and other information which doesn’t require directly contacting visitors but merely observing and taking notes. Results for 2009 and 2010 have been reviewed in earlier updates. These concluded that Memorial Day is indeed the peak weekend for Fourmile, that up to 87% of users then are associated with OHVs, and that overnight camping is primarily by OHV users in family or friends groups with multiple large vehicles. Because these are windshield surveys (not objective counting) and do not cover many years, they don’t measure absolute numbers; but they do provide a good indication of a general trend to significantly increasing numbers of day visitors and campers. However, since 2007 there have been vehicle counters maintained by the BLM on two principal entry roads to north Fourmile (CR375 and CR304 at the Midland Bike trailhead). These are objective counting methods which show significant upward trends in vehicle counts (at 375) of 2 to 3 fold over that period. The 2011 CR375 car counters show a large jump over 2010, possibly related to weather conditions in the spring of 2011 where snow at higher elevations lingered and more Front Range origin OHVs turned to snow-free Fourmile. At the 375 entry point, where there is a large OHV staging area, and where many OHV parties enter to find camping sites inside Fourmile, it’s clear that these 2-3 fold increases are by motorized users.The CR304 counter at the Midland Trailhead parking area shows only small increases, confirming observations oflimited OHV entry there and reflecting the 20+ year traditional bicycle and hiker use of the popular (non-motorized) Midland Bike Trail.
The 2011 windshield survey was not conducted by exactly the same observers and has revealed problems in making consistent observations year to year. But basic results are the same, indicating that peak weekend use is predominantly by OHV parties (66% in 2011) and that many campsite issues like new sites, expansions, and damage from play in campsites takes place on peak days. For unexplained reasons the 2011 windshield survey did not detect the large increase in vehicle entries over 2010 that BLM car counter data did, but counters are a better indicator of absolute numbers.
Use of Fourmile by non-OHV users (hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, conventional 4×4 drivers, fishermen, photographers) is not centered on peak days like Memorial Day but is more evenly distributed throughout summer and even winter (for local residents). Indeed many non-OHV users indicate they avoid Fourmile on peak days because of potential conflict, and some have shifted completely away due to their perception that the area has been tacitly ceded to OHV use. Other observations by volunteers indicate that although mid-week use by OHVs is still much lower than weekend or peak days, nevertheless the perceived image of OHV dominance seems to be widespread.
Information gleaned from Memorial Day surveys as well as thousands of other hours of visitor contact have informed the Chapter’s position on increased use by OHVs and others (see first update above). An even more extensive effort on Memorial Day 2012 is being planned, incorporating staff from the Leave No Trace Hot Spot program (see above) with an “open camp” area in Fourmile where users can drop by for a hot dog and introduction to the LNT principles and face time with volunteers and agency staff.
Annual Fourmile guided hike: an under-subscribed opportunity but with a loyal following
For about the 5th year, Chapter volunteers have led an organized, advertised short off-trail day hike into one of the most attractive or instructive parts of Fourmile. This year’s hike was attended by only five or six, but nonetheless was enthusiastically enjoyed. The area was in “south” Fourmile (south of 285/24) off dead-end Forest Road 188A for a 4-mile shuttle-assisted crossing of some of our most favorite rock formations east of Castle Rock Gulch.
Year 2010 Activities – Modest But Continuing…
Results of Memorial Day 2010 and other visitor counts
Since 2004, Friends of Fourmile has joined Forest Service, BLM and other volunteers like High Rocky Riders in joint patrols and contacts on Memorial Day. General observations about visitors and where they are hiking/cycling or riding have been made, but only since 2009 have volunteers made systematic efforts to count noses (actually cars, 5th wheels, camper trailers, hikers, cyclists, horses, OHV trailers, ATVs and motorcycles). Not so easy when there are nearly 140 camping sites (see next reports) and over 180 miles of Forest Roads. In 2010 counting was expanded to a “typical” non-holiday weekend (in late June) and a partial count on Labor Day. The short version is that Memorial Day visitation (clearly the peak weekend) has steadily increased since 2004 perhaps to 5 times or more that measured in 2009 and 2010. Year 2010 showed increases but numbers may just reflect better procedures; 2010 counts are probably the most accurate ever made. Highlights: on Memorial Day weekend 2010, 109 of 139 camping sites were occupied by 368 camping “units,” 70% OHV related. Other conclusions (with modest certainty)
- Memorial Day is the biggest use weekend, Labor Day second
- Typical summer weekends are much less than either
- Mid-week use remains low (preferred by local hikers and cyclists)
- Motorized use (OHVs) is far more common than hiking, cycling or horseback
- Trend towards larger vehicles and group sizes continues
- Compliance with riding regulations and route designations by ATV users is good
- Motorcyclists are “staying the trail” but excessive speed remains an issue
- Peak weekend camping results in more sites, expansions and impacts every year
Progress on managing expanding camping sites
For several years the Friends has placed priority on managing expansion of campsites, particularly those which grow due to peak weekend use (which invites further expansion). Both the FS and BLM accept in principle the need to eventually designate on the ground sites-and enforce-where camping is allowed (called “designated dispersed camping”) rather than continuing current policy of allowing “dispersed camping” virtually anywhere close to existing roads provided no new disturbance is created. But making this switch involves administrative steps and environmental impact analysis and will take time. Meanwhile in 2010 both our “partner” agencies took steps towards the more restrictive approach. See images. And a major initiative is nearing completion with a series of large posters to be mounted in standard big wood “kiosks” outlining camping regulations and recommendations-these should be in place by spring 2011.
Major effort to GPS, map all camping areas
With inputs from other volunteers, Lyn Berry is completing a highly detailed location map of all known camping sites, fire rings and other key visitor use features in Fourmile’s 100,000+ acres. Not only does this document a “baseline” as of 2010 for comparison with future years, it also provides for the first time an accurate map of where all these sites are so that volunteers and agency staff can be precise in reporting changes and activities. It also will make routine annual counting much more effective.
FoF participates in school and Outward Bound programs, Conservation Camp
In 2010 GARNA, in conjunction with the Forest Service, BLM and the Salida School District initiated a program to encourage local school students to get out more and better understand Chaffee County’s public lands. In part of this successful pilot project, Alan Robinson (a Friends volunteer) and Dudley Fecht (a Friends and High Rocky Riders volunteer) teamed up to help agency representatives and the Stay the Trail program explain recreation and resource management issues (and how to have fun while treating the public lands carefully) to Salida 10th grade students. In other contributions to local conservation education activities Friends also helped with the Buena Vista schools annual Conservation Camp, and a BLM orientation/work session with a Leadville-based Outward Bound group.
As usual, Friends volunteers participated in the annual AHRA/GARNA CleanUp GreenUp day in May, concentrating this year on retrieving old tires from Pine Creek and Ark River sections north of Buena Vista. Also in May several Friends volunteers participated in the third annual Trails Construction and Design training sponsored by the Salida District of the Forest Service.
Year 2009 Activities and Emerging Issues
Increased use in Fourmile a major concern for Chapter/land managers
Statistics collected by Volunteers on 2009’s peak Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends (plus summer observations) documented increases in use of as much as five times which have become obvious to the Friends, Forest Service and BLM since the Fourmile Travel Management Plan was approved in 2002. This is especially true for recreational vehicles like 5th wheel “mobile garages” that combine living space with room for several ATVs and motorcycles, and other large RVs and camper rigs.
The number of Off Highway Vehicles (OHVs), which includes unlicensed ATVs and motorcycles, has similarly increased, and there have been substantial increases in the number of mountain bike users as well. It appears that hiking and jeep/SUV use is about the same, although many local users now avoid weekends, preferring not to compete with the heavy motorized use.
Increased camper pressure is evident in annual expansion of camping areas with more and more fire rings and-a particularly destructive problem – more in-camp areas where young OHV riders play while older folks relax around a campfire.
This issue of increasing use without a firm strategy for controls to protect the area’s resources has become the Friends’ primary priority in discussions with the BLM and Forest Service. There are signs that both agencies are becoming more concerned about taking action, and the Volunteers are anxious to be a part (see related story about BLM camping areas, below). As a general observation, over the past 6-7 years ATV and motorcycle users have shown much better compliance with the managers’ requirements to “Stay the Trail” signs indicating closure or restriction to certain vehicle types are generally well-respected and few if any new unauthorized routes are being created. The problem now centers on impacts of higher and higher total numbers every year.
BLM takes action on limiting expansion of camping areas
In response to the expanding campsite problem, local BLM recreation specialist Starr Jamison initiated a program of delineating sites with posts, which encourage campers to park vehicles in a limited area and “walk-in” to pitch tents. The Friends helped on several workdays.
High Rocky Riders joins Friends group in work days
The High Rocky Riders, the valley’s largest recreational OHV group, joined the Friends in survey and hands-on work days in late summer. On one level this is a good way of increasing the number of eyes on the lookout for (and hands to fix) problems like braiding of routes, incipient “play areas” and other examples where motorized or non-motorized users might be forgetting to “Stay the Trail”.
On another level, HRR actively working with Friends of Fourmile signals a renewed and welcome interest in “single user” advocacy groups (like the HRR or the new bicycle group Ark Valley Velo or the local horse user group) joining forces with a “multiple-user” group like the Friends. Ideally this interaction encourages the single user group to appreciate how their recreational patterns-and proposals for increased access or changes in agency policies-may affect other users and ultimately the health of the Fourmile’s resources. And when these groups work together, proposals crafted through consensus may face an easier road when presented to the agencies for approval.
State-wide volunteer trail builders (VOC) return to Fourmile
For the third time since 2005, the respected state-wide volunteer group Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado returned to Fourmile for a trail building project. The first two were along the Davis Meadow Trail in northern Fourmile, with the Forest Service providing design and support, along with Friends. The latest project was to improve the Midland Hill trail above Buena Vista, an extension of the town’s popular Whipple Trail system, on BLM lands. On October 17-18 over 75 “VOC” volunteers joined 6 local veterans of past VOC projects to rehabilitate 3,000 feet of the lower trail, installing dozens of drainage dips and steps.
Davis Meadow Trail gets maintenance
Following summer wind storms a number of trees had blown down along the Davis Meadow Trail in northern Fourmile. Friends volunteers starting from east and west took only a day to cut the downfalls out.
Annual Fourmile guided hike for GARNA summer activity
A small but enthusiastic group joined the annual Friends-led hike September 19th.
Other activities: big thank you to volunteer graphic designer Kathy McCoy who worked with other volunteers and the agencies to update the popular Fourmile brochure, making sure it is consistent with the San Isabel National Forest’s new Motor Vehicle Use Map http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/psicc/maps/mvum_sal09.pdf
About 25,000 were printed using funds from private local contributors as well as the agencies and some GARNA money.
BLM specialists from the Canon City office, in conjunction with local BLM and San Isabel National Forest staff, have completed about one half of a project to construct overflow drainage dips at 8-10 locations along the Midland Bike Trail. These are designed to channel flash flood waters around areas where 100+ years of sediments have pooled behind the old railbed, and thus avoid sudden drainage of sediments into Trout Creek. Friends volunteers joined BLM in repairing waterbars on 1450A which heavy equipment inadvertantly damaged, and in reseeding disturbed areas. The remaining drainage structures will be constructed in the spring when weather conditions permit
Friends volunteers also joined other users in discussing which, if any, existing user-created trail routes to consider for eventual designation in BLM’s Browns Canyon Wilderness Study area.
The “active roster” of Friends of Fourmile remains below 10, and although we think we get a reasonable amount done (evidence above!) we definitely would welcome new members.