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Wilderness Monitoring Project Takes a Look at Backcountry Camping

Photo Credit: Randy Schwitzer
Garna backcountry camping chaffee county - restoration area sign

For 37 days in the summer of 2023, Jeff Keidel traversed the backcountry trails of the San Isabel National Forest to collect data on trailheads, trails and dispersed campsites. As public lands see a rapid increase both in visitation and impact, Keidel’s project was seeking to create a sustainable stewardship model to maintain the exceptional experiences and healthy natural resources in the Wilderness Areas of the Upper Arkansas Valley.

The Wilderness Monitoring Project was created by the Chaffee Rec Adopters partnership to gather field observations to support stewardship actions as outlined in the Chaffee County Outdoor Recreation Management Plan.

With a grant from Chaffee Common Ground to the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA), Chaffee Rec Adopters contracted Keidel, a local retired teacher, to collect campsite data in backcountry locations in Chaffee County, Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, Buffalo Peaks Wilderness and the San Isabel National Forest.

Using the Chaffee Rec Collector app, Keidel traversed the region from June to October inventorying 522 backcountry sites, monitoring trailheads and identifying high-use concentration areas that will be used by partners to help guide decisions in managing the backcountry.

Keidel was able to identify and record campsites when they contained a rock fire ring. Most sites were located near a water source, on flat terrain and with access to firewood, with the heaviest concentration near the Colorado Trail and popular 14er routes. Keidel identified and inventoried damaged signs, campsites too close to sensitive areas and water, and zones that had a high concentration of ash piles from years of campfires. Of the sites monitored, 69% showed obvious user impact and 13% had human waste present. Eleven percent needed additional actions taken, such as removal of excess fire ash, downsizing or removing rock fire rings and trash removal.

The summer’s worth of valuable data was furnished to the Chaffee Recreation Council and the Forest Service, who are using it for action planning and grant requests. Chaffee Rec Adopters events this year will include opportunities to help care for these backcountry campsites. These events work toward high-quality, low-impact camping, which is an objective in the Chaffee Rec Plan.

The Chaffee Rec Adopters is a stewardship group helping volunteers care for the lands they love. Partnership organizations are Envision Chaffee County, GARNA, National Forest Foundation, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Parks & Wildlife. Learn how to get involved at

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