Maroon Bells Wilderness Faces Severe Problems Due to High Visitation Rates

Posted: Feb 07, 2015 by Sam Szarka

Forest Service Seeks to Educate Public About Wilderness Impacts

US Forest Service rangers alarmed at an increase in the number of wilderness violations in the Maroon Bells Snowmass wilderness created an educational video titled ‘Wilderness in Peril.’ The video attempts to educate the public of the need to abide by wilderness regulations by showing examples of wilderness destruction by unethical backcountry visitors. In recent years, the number of visitors to the Maroon Bells Snowmass wilderness has increased dramatically with the highest impacted areas being the 4 Pass Loop and Conundrum Creek areas. Several recent news articles in the Aspen Times and Aspen Daily News have reported on the Forest Services’ concern of a degradation in the wilderness qualities of the area. According the Aspen-Sopris office of the US Forest Service, in 2013 alone, over thirteen thousand visitors visited the Maroon Bells Snowmass wilderness. Problems due to high visitation and a lack of wilderness ethics that have been raised include illegal campsites, improper disposal of human waste, overcrowding, and campers leaving behind trash.

In an effort to educate wilderness users of the wilderness regulations, the Forest Service has installed a permit station at the West Maroon valley trailhead near Maroon Lake. The permits are free but require visitors to read the wilderness rules and provide their signature. However, due to increasing traffic, the  Aspen-Sopris forest service office is seeking public input on instituting a limited permit system that would limit the number of visitors to the wilderness. If the exponential rise of visitors to the area does not abate, the forest service may be forced to preserve the wild nature of the Maroon Bells wilderness with a system such as the one that has been proposed.