Are We Loving Colorado’s Wild Places to Death?

Are We Loving Colorado’s Wild Places to Death?

October 4, 2017 by Jennifer Peterson


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.

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