Trampled wildflowers. eroded trails. Trash littering the forest floor. Piles of (not just dog) poop. These are not the images one conjures when thinking of Colorado’s postcard-perfect landscapes. But according to stewardship organizations and land managers across the state, these unfortunate scenarios are occurring with increasing frequency as our population and tourism numbers rise and as social-media-stoked enthusiasm for the outdoors sends more people traipsing through the Centennial State’s hallowed grounds.
In outdoor-industry parlance, this degradation is commonly referred to as the “loving-it-to-death phenomenon”: too many people in the same area at the same time, sometimes doing things they’re not supposed to be doing. It’s not a new problem—the Appalachian Trail has been witness to an excess of footfalls for years; Yosemite National Park began limiting visitors in 2014; and the U.S. Forest Service implemented a permit system to battle crowds on California’s 14,505-foot Mt. Whitney way back in 1971—but it is a relatively recent development in Colorado. Certainly there are areas of our state that have long endured millions of annual visitors. But Forest Service rangers, national park personnel, and state park operators say that in the past four or five years they have discerned not only an uptick in visitation but also a dramatic surge of disappointing behaviors that are detrimental to our outdoor spaces.
That one-two punch has every outdoor advocacy group and land management agency in Colorado scrambling to keep up and clean up—particularly the Forest Service, which oversees more than 14 million acres. In May, the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region leadership hosted two virtual roundtables with its districts to discuss overuse and abuse issues and potential solutions. “The meetings are an acknowledgement of the challenges we are experiencing in our state,” says Jason Robertson, U.S. Forest Service deputy director of recreation, lands, minerals, and volunteers. “It will be an ongoing conversation.”
The chatter isn’t limited to the Forest Service, though. In 2015, Governor John Hickenlooper charged Luis Benitez, director of the then newly created Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, with elevating the state’s status as an outdoor recreation mecca and keeping the associated dollars—about $28 billion in annual consumer spending and $2 billion in state and local taxes—flowing. Benitez says he, too, is concerned about the recent impacts on Colorado’s wild places and, maybe more critically, the surprising lack of education Coloradans are displaying when it comes to safeguarding them. “We’re never going to put a ‘closed’ sign on Colorado,” Benitez says. “But this is an industry worth billions of dollars, and I think we can—and should—take care of our own backyard.”
Right now, much of the TLC being handed out to Colorado’s public lands comes from volunteers mobilized by nonprofits who partner with land management agencies like the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, and myriad cities’ open space divisions. “With about 30 Colorado organizations engaged in stewardship, we enlist about 100,000 volunteers each year,” says Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado’s Anna Zawisza. “That’s great. Until you realize there are now five million residents in this state. We think every Coloradan should care about stewardship, so clearly we have some work to do.”
In truth, we all have work to do, including those of us at 5280. For more than 24 years, we have pointed our readers in the direction of the most gorgeous hiking trails, the coolest camping spots, and the flowiest singletrack, but we may have been remiss in making certain our audience understands three simple truths. One, nature is astoundingly resilient—but only to a point. Two, there are guidelines for how to lessen your impact and enjoy Colorado’s most magical places responsibly. And three, a much higher percentage of Coloradans are going to have to step up their involvement in protecting and maintaining public lands if we want to continue to use them. Otherwise, the resplendent wilds we all came here—or stayed here—for will continue to wither underfoot.
$887 BILLION: Amount American consumers spend annually on outdoor recreation, including gear, apparel, footwear, equipment, services, airfare, fuel, lodging, lift tickets, guides, lessons, and more, according to a 2017 report from Boulder’s Outdoor Industry Association. That spending supports 7.6 million U.S. jobs and generates $125 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenues.
Few of us consciously make the decision to inflict damage as we make camp at our favorite lakeside spot. Still, being careless, unskilled, or uninformed about how your actions impact your surroundings can have disastrous effects. So, please: Don’t be that guy. We explain what not to do below.
1. Bagging one of Colorado’s 54 fourteeners, and at the time, it seems like a great to snap a selfie while holding the cardboard sign you brought with you that reads “14,157 feet!” But then you decide to leave the sign atop the summit “for someone else to use,” which means you just littered on one of the Centennial State’s most precious and beautiful places.
2. Going backpacking with a few friends, and at the time, it seems like a great idea to wear those ratty old tennis shoes instead of your high-ankled, water-resistant hiking boots. But then you encounter deep puddles on the path and decide to step off-trail to avoid getting your feet wet, which means you planted your size 12s on sensitive vegetation and contributed to the widening of the hiking trail for your own comfort.
3. Bringing Fido on a trail run with you in a national forest, and at the time, it seems like a great idea to let him expend additional energy by allowing him ever-so-briefly off-leash, even though it’s illegal. But then you run into a small herd of elk in a meadow, where Fido can’t help trying his best herding-dog impression, which means you and your four-legged buddy may have trespassed on a migration corridor or interrupted a mating session.
4. Legally sport shooting on public land, and at the time, it seems like a great idea to bring in old paint buckets, empty beer cans and a broken toaster oven to use for target practice. But then you don’t pack out the bullet-riddled detritus—mostly because whoever was there before you didn’t take the time to pick up their mess either, which means laziness begets laziness—and the rubbish piles up, leaving what was once a pristine landscape dotted with casings and piles of trash.
5. Dayhiking to an alpine lake, and at the time, it seems like a great idea to follow what looks like a shorter, more direct trail. But then you lose track of the unsigned path and short-cut your way back to the main trail, which means you messed up twice: first, when you took an existing pirate trail, further promoting a bogus path, and again when you short-cut, creating another vegetation-killing pirate trail.
Trouble in Paradise: Hanging Lake
If you put together a list of the most-righteous-view-for-the-least-amount-of-effort destinations, Hanging Lake would be near the top. Which is why this Glenwood Canyon stunner—a travertine-lined shore and dissolved carbonate minerals create its brilliant blue-green hue—has been popular with hikers since the 1910s, when it was purchased by the city of Glenwood Springs. The 1.2-mile-long trek might be steep, but in recent years, the 1,000-foot elevation gain hasn’t deterred many hikers. “In 2013, we saw about 90,000 visitors,” says Eagle–Holy Cross Ranger District’s Aaron Mayville. “In 2016, we saw 150,000. That’s a rapid rise.”
It’s also a logistical nightmare. The 100-slot parking lot wasn’t built for that kind of demand. On summer days, traffic backs up onto the highway, tempers flare between would-be hikers looking for spaces, and illegally parked vehicles cause problems for everyone. “The entire experience is degraded,” Mayville says.
The trail and lake themselves haven’t fared much better under such pressure. The footpath has widened considerably; discarded trash gets stuck in the ground cover; and visitors often disobey signs that implore them not to bring dogs; not to swim in the lake; and to stay off a downed tree that protrudes into the water. In April, vandals desecrated rocks and trees with graffiti. Then, in June, models and a photographer from a Brazilian activewear company were fined for swimming in the lake and climbing on the iconic log.
With the district’s crown jewel under attack, the Forest Service has been working on solutions for nearly three years. The parking area is now being supervised by rangers during peak use. The district is ultimately hoping to set a limit of 615 hikers per day—a 40 percent reduction from current numbers. And there is a proposed plan to implement a shuttle system in summer 2018 that could reduce traffic and parking problems. Here’s hoping these efforts pay off, too.
Boulder’s Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics will help restore 16 endangered “Hot Spots” this year.
If you were given a hypothetical quiz, could you say how long it would take for certain trash items to biodegrade if left in the wilderness? Take, for example, tin cans, disposable diapers, plastic bottles, fishing line, aluminum cans, wool socks, banana peels, glass bottles, and nylon fabric. Then try to match them with approximate time frames: up to two years; one to five years; 30 to 40 years; 50 years; 80 to 100 years; 450 years; 600 years; a million years; and never.*
This exercise is just one of a handful presented to a group of about 30 people—mostly nonprofit volunteers and Forest Service personnel—during a three-hour workshop in Aspen this past June. Led by experts from Boulder’s Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, an organization whose mission is to educate global citizens about lessening their cumulative impact on wildlands, the classroom-based seminar is part of the organization’s 2017 Hot Spot program.
Over the past six years, the Leave No Trace Center has selected 77 recreation areas across the country that have sustained damage from extreme overuse—and vowed to help each community rally around the landscape in an effort to resuscitate it. “We go into an area for a short time frame, usually about a week,” says Ben Lawhon, Leave No Trace Center’s education director, “and we really make a difference. The program is about finding a whole new paradigm for how people visit these places.”
In that classroom this past summer, the Hot Spot program participants who were fervently trying to figure out how long it might take a wool sock to decompose were doing so in an effort to learn how to protect one of Colorado’s most beautiful backcountry destinations: Conundrum Hot Springs, outside of Aspen (see “Trouble In Paradise” at right). Conundrum Hot Springs and Guffey Cove (near Cripple Creek), two of the 16 Hot Spots designated by the Leave No Trace Center in 2017, were the only areas selected in the Centennial State this year. (Ice Lakes Trail near Silverton, 14,060-foot Mt. Bierstadt, and Fourmile Canyon near Salida have been Hot Spots in the past.) It’s not a distinction any Coloradan should be proud of. Both Conundrum Hot Springs and Guffey Cove are suffering from classic overuse—too many people in the same fragile place at the same time, often neglecting to realize the impact their presence and actions have.
Which is where the educational element of the Hot Spot program comes in. Along with a consultation on solutions and program implementation the nonprofit gives to land managers, the Leave No Trace Center’s gurus impart some serious knowledge about mitigating recreational pressures to land stewardship volunteers, key community members, land agency personnel, area residents, and prospective recreationists. They do this through a weeklong series of seminars, workshops, and public outreach events. The result, Lawhon says, is heightened awareness of the issues and a strengthened resolve to remedy them. “These places are not too far gone,” Lawhon says. “We’re putting them on the road to recovery.”
Boulder’s Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics helping restore one of the nation’s “Hot Spots” / Photo by Sarah Boyum
The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics released its 2018 list of Hot Spots in July. Three of the 20 are located in Colorado:
1. The Monarch Crest section of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail in the Gunnison and San Isabel National Forests
2. Blue Lakes Trail in the Mt. Sneffels Wilderness
3. South Colony Lakes and Upper Sand Creek in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness
$13 MILLION: Approximate annual visitors to Colorado’s White River National Forest, the most-visited national forest in the country
GIVING A CRAP
How a trip into the backcountry persuaded me to get my shit together when it comes to going number two. —Sarah Boyum
I’ve logged hundreds of hours and miles in the Colorado backcountry. And I’ve always respected the landscape, trying to, as they say, leave only footprints and take only photographs. But as I listen to the U.S. Forest Service ranger I’m hiking with talk to another group of adventurers about what it looks like to truly leave no trace along the Conundrum Creek Trail near Aspen, I realize I’ve been leaving traces of myself in too-shallow graves all over the state for years: my poop.
The subject of human waste has come up an uncomfortable amount of times on this 8.5-mile trek up to Conundrum Hot Springs with a faction of experts from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics and the Forest Service. But it’s a steaming-hot topic for good reason: We’re on a 30-hour mission to clean up this iconic Colorado destination, which is suffering from overuse—one aspect of which is improperly buried feces.
To be honest, my first thought was I’ll just hold it. But the freeze-dried camp food I’d eaten was going to make that impossible.
Besides being disgusting, waste that hasn’t been entombed the requisite six to eight inches below ground level endangers hikers, animals, and nearby water sources. At Conundrum, however, the problem isn’t just on the surface: With so many visitors, finding a spot to dig a so-called cathole without unearthing a previously laid land mine is becoming difficult. As such, rangers have been pushing for backpackers to…wait for it…pack out their waste. Because I’m part of this disinfecting mission, I’ll be expected to do just that.
To be honest, my first thought was I’ll just hold it. But the freeze-dried camp food I’d eaten was going to make that impossible. Going in a bag and hauling it out sounded like an unnecessary and icky undertaking—until I watched the sun rise from one of Conundrum’s pools. It was magical to see the sun kiss the Elk Mountains and set the valley aglow. This is a place worth giving a crap about, I thought. So when nature called, I summoned my resolve, grabbed the WAG bag I’d picked up (free of charge) at the trailhead, and hid myself in the trees.
WAG is short for “waste alleviation and gelling,” which sounds pretty nasty right out of the gate. But I opened the six-by-eight-inch pouch anyway. First, I pulled out the top of the plastic drawstring interior bag and found a hand wipe and toilet paper inside. Keeping those within reach, I spread the bag wide, crouched, and aimed for the center. Deed done, I jostled the bag to make sure the waste funneled down to the enzyme gel (which allows you to toss the bag into any old dumpster back in civilization); put the wipe and TP in the bag; and pulled the drawstring tight. I compressed the pouch, stuffed it in a trash bag, and tied it to the outside of my backpack. I sighed with, well, relief.
And then I proceeded to laugh at myself. The WAG bag couldn’t have been easier—so easy, in fact, I wondered why I hadn’t been using them all along. Right then and there, I promised Mother Nature I would never befoul her soil again.
Trouble in Paradise: Conundrum Hot Springs
Tucked into the Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness in the White River National Forest, about 8.5 miles from the trailhead off Castle Creek Road near Aspen, a smattering of primitive hot springs burbles from the valley floor. At about 100 degrees, the pools act like a magnet for trail-weary hikers, dirt-covered overnight campers, and none too few college-age kids looking to take in the spectacular views of the Elk Range while swigging cold Coors Lights sans swimsuits.
In 2006, the springs attracted about 1,400 overnight visitors, most of them in peak summer months. That translated to roughly 16 campers every day from mid-June to mid-September, which even then was borderline overcrowding for the area. “In 2016, Conundrum saw 4,800 overnighters,” says Karen Schroyer, district ranger for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District. “That’s a 200 percent increase in 10 years.”
Those numbers aren’t sustainable. And neither are these: In summer 2016, Aspen-Sopris rangers buried 139 piles of human waste found near the springs; dismantled 140 illegal fire rings in the area; witnessed 468 rules violations; and packed out hundreds of pounds of garbage that had simply been left behind.
The district is working on an adaptive management plan that aims to implement a limited-entry overnight permit system by summer 2018 to help it tame the snowballing usage numbers and the associated damage. Other potential future fixes may include requiring visitors to pack out their poop; limiting group sizes; restricting the number of days visitors can stay in the wilderness area; and ordering the use of designated dispersed sites. “The wilderness experience is being diminished in these areas,” Schroyer says. “We feel like some of these fixes will help.”
LIKE YOU WERE NEVER THERE
You don’t have to be a wilderness expert to employ the seven principles of Leave No Trace. You just have to be willing to put in the effort.
As the Executive Director of Boulder’s Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, Dana Watts has heard every excuse out there for not following Leave No Trace doctrine. She gets it. It can be inconvenient. But Watts also argues there’s a spectrum of Leave No Trace practices, meaning it’s not an all-or-nothing deal. “Leave No Trace comes down to your personal ethic,” she says. “You have to make the decision to be responsible.”
To help you do that, we break down parts of the seven tenets to encourage you to make the best choices for you and the planet.
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
Learn the regulations for any area you’ll be visiting before you go.
Scout out which campsites are best for your group. Larger groups often have a bigger impact, not only on the environment, but also on the wilderness experience for others. Ask a ranger how you can best select a site for your group.
Schedule your outing to dodge less-than-ideal weather conditions, when snow or muddy trails can increase the likelihood of recreational impact.
Plot out your meals to avoid leftovers, which often end up on the ground or in a river, and ditch bulky supermarket-style packaging—which tends to get left behind at campsites— before you leave home.
2. Respect Wildlife
Skip the selfie with an elk; always watch or photograph from a distance.
Never feed wildlife. Human food can damage animals’ health and alter their natural behaviors.
Store food, trash, and any other smellables (yes, even toothpaste and Chap Stick) by securely hanging them in a bag—bring rope and carabiners—from tree limbs 12 feet off the ground and six feet from the tree’s trunk. Or store smellables in bear-resistant canisters or on-site lockers.
Don’t let your pet be a pest. Many national parks and some public lands have strict regulations concerning dogs because of their effects on wildlife. Check websites before you leave so you’ll know if you need a leash or if you need to leave Spot at home.
3. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Walk single file in the middle of designated trails. Trails get progressively wider when people walk on the margins or detour around perceived obstacles.
If you must go off-trail, have your fellow hikers choose different routes so as not to create a pirate trail, which others might follow. Also: Try to only step on rocks, snow, gravel, and sand (i.e., durable surfaces).
Use established campsites, even in the backcountry. Setting up camp in well-worn spots reduces the spread of damage to areas nearby.
4. Leave What You Find
Leave rocks, plants, flowers, antlers, animal bones, fossils, historical artifacts—and anything else you come across—where they are. Give the gift of discovery to those who follow you, and let these objects fulfill their roles in the local ecology.
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
Make sure you know about any fire restrictions in the area you’ll be visiting before you go.
Use a stove when building a fire is inappropriate (e.g., high winds, lack of downed or dead wood, insufficient time to burn all the wood to ash).
When conditions are right for a small campfire, use an established fire ring or a fire pan on a durable, unvegetated surface.
Use only dead or downed wood about the circumference of your wrist. Don’t snap branches off trees, living or dead. Gather wood en route to your campsite.
Never leave a fire unattended. Burn wood to ash, then saturate with water.
Do not burn leftover food, food packaging, or garbage, some of which have chemicals in them that can leach into the soil and all of which will likely need to be fished out of the ashes by someone else later.
6. Dispose of Waste Properly
Whatever you pack in, pack it back out.
In the backcountry, put solid human waste in “catholes”: six-to-eight-inch-deep holes dug with a trowel at least 200 feet from water, camp, trails, and drainages. Quick tip: 200 feet equals about 70 large adult-size steps.
In areas with high use, packing out human waste using a specially designed carrier—commonly called a WAG bag—is an option land managers encourage.
Pack out used toilet paper and used feminine hygiene products in a zip-top bag.
To wash yourself or your dishes, collect water and then carry it 200 feet from its source. Strain dirty dishwater, collecting food bits to pack out. Scatter strained dishwater. Use hand sanitizers and body wipes that don’t require rinsing—then pack them out.
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Many people camp and hike for the solitude these activities offer. Loud music, hootin’ and hollerin’, generators, barking dogs, and children running about unchecked can detract from others’ experiences.
Outdoor gear and gadgets that can help you become a Leave No Trace whiz.
Photo by Paul Miller.
Left: Keeping wildlife wild is an essential part of Leave No Trace. Many areas in Colorado now require bear canisters for backcountry camping. We dig the BearVault BV500 Food Container for its size, durability, and easy-to-see-through plastic. $80; rei.com
Right: Save a wildflower by pitching your dome on a durable (read: uncomfortable) surface—like sand, gravel, or compacted soil—but still score some zzz’s with Steamboat Springs–based Big Agnes Q-Core Deluxe sleeping padunderneath you. Starting at $130; bigagnes.com
Avoid crushing tender vegetation with a traditional tent by opting instead for the made-in-Evergreen Warbonnet Outdoors Blackbird camping hammock, which hangs between two trees—using tree-safe straps—and exerts almost zero impact on the environment. Starting at $170.
Colorado’s prized fourteeners aren’t getting the upkeep they need to withstand all those footfalls
Although many of Colorado’s outdoor advocacy organizations dabble in stewardship of the state’s 14,000-foot peaks, preserving these behemoths is the sole mission of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI). As part of that objective, CFI’s goal is to build and maintain sustainable summit routes that mitigate recreational impact on every peak. It’s a job easier said than done, but in August CFI released new data that are helping the organization explain the need to invest in our highest hills, which have an estimated $84.3 million annual statewide economic impact. CFI’s second-ever hiking chart includes total usage numbers—about 311,000 hikers in 2016—as well as a per-peak breakdown. Combined with CFI’s 2016 report card, which graded the conditions of 42 existing summit routes on 39 of the fourteeners and detailed how much cash would be needed to bring the trails to “ideal” status, the recently released information only reinforces the idea that our mountains need help. “If a trail is not built for the use it’s getting,” says Lloyd Athearn, CFI’s executive director, “then there are problems and damage. But you can have high use if you have a good trail, which we know how to build if we have the funds.” Using CFI’s data, the above graphic illustrates the disposition of some of the state’s most-climbed fourteeners.
To volunteer for trail projects or to donate to CFI, visit 14ers.org.
$24 MILLION: Estimated cost to bring all planned (purpose-fully constructed) and unplanned (pirate trails) summit routes on 39 of the state’s 54 fourteeners to ideal conditions
Trouble in Paradise: Mt. Bierstadt
“Listen, we need an interstate on Bierstadt,” says Colorado Fourteeners Initiative’s Lloyd Athearn. He’s only half joking. In August, CFI released its updated estimates for hiking use on the state’s 14,000-foot peaks, and the stats were particularly unkind to the 14,060-foot mountain that stands resolute over Guanella Pass Scenic & Historic Byway. During the 2016 hiking season—usually late June through early September—upward of 25,000 people ascended at least part of the peak. That’s a steady stream of footfalls, the cumulative impact from which is concerning. “Bierstadt is a perfect storm of both nature- and human-caused problems,” Athearn says.
The long-brewing squall has been whipped up in recent years by the mountain’s close proximity to the booming metro area; the now fully paved road that delivers peak baggers to the trailhead; the relative ease of the 7.3-mile round-trip climb; and the lack of naturally occurring materials available to corral hikers onto a designated trail. The peak’s location in the Mount Evans Wilderness means CFI—and any other stewardship group looking to help make Bierstadt great again—cannot legally bring in building materials to, say, line a path with rocks or shore up erosion with railroad ties. That scarcity of infrastructure means hikers are running riot on Mt. Bierstadt. “The trail on Bierstadt was originally four feet wide,” says Brian Banks, district ranger for the South Platte Ranger District. “Now, it’s 30 feet wide in many places.”
That’s distressing news for fans of alpine plants—which are being trampled by the unherded masses—but it’s also a bummer for solitude seekers. With as many as 800 people hiking skyward on summer Saturdays, Mt. Bierstadt certainly doesn’t proffer a Walden-like immersion in nature. And it likely won’t anytime soon. CFI’s Athearn says if any of the fourteeners were going to be permitted, it would be Bierstadt; however, currently there are no plans to implement such a system.
Photo by Steve Kroll Mountain Climbing Images / Alamy Stock Photos
Why I decided Instagram doesn’t need to know where my pictures were taken —Eric Schuette
A couple of years ago, a local photographer I greatly respect named Erik Stensland told his not insignificant Facebook audience he would no longer post the locations of photographs taken off of official trails because of damage noted at several locations he had revealed in Rocky Mountain National Park. Conversely, I recently attended a screening of a documentary by Chris Burkard—a California travel photographer with an Instagram following well north of two million—who told the audience he posted locations in his photos specifically so others could go there, feel a connection with that place, and then, hopefully, work to conserve it.
As an outdoor photographer myself, I’ve been intrigued by these contrasting views and have begun to formulate my own opinions—opinions informed by what I’ve been seeing in Colorado’s backcountry. In recent years, I’ve seen trailheads that used to have ample parking even on weekends now overflowing on weekdays. Camping spots are filling up months ahead of time. I’ve also witnessed an increase in trampled plants; worsening braiding of trails; a proliferation of pirate paths; and an escalation in the amount of litter almost everywhere.
Are Facebook and Instagram posts really to blame? Maybe. After all, social media has given people a window into—and GPS coordinates to find—places that only a few years ago were essentially unknown. Of course, it’s not an entirely bad thing if social media is pushing us off the couch and into the outdoors. But as a person who wields both a Sony a7R II and a smartphone—and therefore a shocking amount of power—I want to protect the land I see through my viewfinder. On social media, I’m often asked where a photo was taken. Keeping in mind the real-life implications for Colorado’s delicate ecosystems, responding to those questions has become difficult for me.
The photographic community is divided on this point. Most outdoor photographers I’ve spoken with at least recognize the growing concerns of overuse to locations they shoot and make available to the masses. However, responding to requests for location information is tricky, especially when you consider photographers are running small businesses. Social media is, for better or worse, a killer marketing tool.
I can empathize. Nevertheless, I no longer disclose on social media the locations of sites that are off-trail, particularly susceptible to damage, or experiencing overuse. In the end, it wasn’t a difficult decision. First, I believe much of the satisfaction of being in those extraordinary settings comes from putting the time into finding them myself. And second, the signs of degradation are simply too strong for me to ignore. If I had to guess, I’d say others are noticing the harbingers of an overburdened environment, too. So whether you brandish a big lens or an iPhone or gravitate toward Facebook or Instagram, it’s worth asking yourselves the same question I asked myself: Is geotagging a picture of a sensitive environment worth the risk?
INSTA-SHAMING: A Colorado social media account snarkily reproaches those caught defiling nature.
If the reach of social media is even a partial cause for the increasing numbers of people seeking out the grandeur of nature, then the anonymous brain behind @trailtrashco hopes to use the same powers of influence to protect it. Although the Instagram account is relatively new (only 77 posts at press time), @trailtrashco’s unabashed glee in re-gramming, calling out by handle, and mocking rule breakers, sign ignorers, and idiots with spray paint has already garnered more than 11,600 followers.
Only about two percent of Coloradans sign up each year to work on land stewardship projects. With less and less government funding available for new infrastructure and maintenance, the onus is on Centennial Staters to take care of public lands. These groups make it easy to get involved.
Courtesy of Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado
Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado Known For: Being the granddaddy of land stewardship organizations in Colorado; mobilizing more than 4,500 volunteers a season; being responsible for maintaining 23 miles of trails annually Geographic Focus: Statewide If You Participate, You Might: Remove invasive weeds in the James Peak Wilderness; restore crumbling sections of the Herman Gulch Trail Recent Project: Built a new trail on Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in the state