The Chaffee Recreation Council is providing a draft of the Chaffee Recreation Plan for community feedback. The plan’s goals are to protect natural resources, maintain exceptional outdoor experiences and sustain the economic benefits of recreation tourism.
Broad initiatives, described below, help manage the impacts of growing outdoor use to Keep it Clean, Keep it Fun, Keep it Wild and Keep it Going into the future.
Nine objectives and more than two dozen programs and projects are proposed in the five-year plan. An estimated $20 million is needed for new infrastructure and ongoing management and maintenance.
Go to envisionchaffeecounty.org and click on the orange banner at the top of the homepage to provide feedback on the initiatives and view a copy of the draft plan.
Keep it Clean initiatives include high-quality, low-impact camping opportunities and getting the right infrastructure such as restrooms across all lands in Chaffee County.
“The agencies are taking a collaborative approach to identify how we’re going to manage camping across all lands when we see so much growth happening,” U.S. Forest Service recreation staffer Ben Lara said during an online public meeting hosted by Envision Chaffee County on May 25.
Lara said both the Bureau of Land Management and Salida Ranger District are starting federal processes that consider new management solutions such as designating sites in popular zones, closing some areas and developing more fee-based campgrounds that have parking, trash disposal and restrooms. Agency decisions are expected in 2022.
The draft plan offers new programs to clean up overused camping areas and slow site growth to 3 percent a year.
“Public lands have a capacity level and to maintain the experience, we need to consider what that capacity is,” Salida District Ranger Jim Pitts said at a presentation to the Buena Vista board of trustees in May.
The plan identifies infrastructure projects such as new and updated restrooms in the towns and front country, plus:
• Adding capacity at Monarch Park Campground
• Containing dispersed camping sites in Chubb Park and Cochetopa Creek
• Realigning a Colorado Trail segment at South Fooses Creek in wetland habitat
• Adding trail connectors in the Arkansas Hills Trail System
• Expanded parking at the Grizzly Creek motorized trailhead
• Adding signage and structures to support seasonal closures to protect wildlife
The plan establishes Community Concentration Zones (see map) to focus new recreation development opportunities such as trail connectors in and around towns.
Keep it Fun initiatives are designed to encourage better outdoor ethics through the Chaffee Rec Rangers, Rec Adopters and Chaffee Front Fire Protection programs. The Rangers, managed by the Salida Ranger District, provide education, maintenance, clean up and enforcement by adding seasonal staff covering the busiest public lands in Chaffee County. The Rangers enable volunteers to help through the Chaffee Rec Adopters, who sign up to help monitor and steward sites.
Fire protection is achieved through county fire department patrols focused on ensuring safe and legal campfires on county roads popular with weekend campers.
The Chaffee County Visitors Bureau is already informing visitors how to plan ahead and act responsibly in the outdoors through their new Adventure by Nature social media campaign funded by the county lodging tax.
For added enforcement, the U.S. Forest Service is adding a Salida-based law enforcement officer this summer.
The third initiative to Keep it Wild addresses the county’s population declines among 65 percent of key wildlife species as identified by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and other local biologists.
The plan maps calving areas, wintering grounds and additional important habitat to inform forest improvement projects and new voluntary seasonal closures that can give wildlife a break.
Proposed solutions for agricultural operators incurring damage from recreational use include converting gates often left open by trail users to cattle guards and containoing campsites to maintain grassy zones for grazing.
To raise the estimated $20 million to implement the plan, new programs will aggregate user donations, grants and additional funding from local, state and federal sources.
The Chaffee Rec Plan is a result of the 2017 Envision Chaffee County planning initiative that outlined four community visions to achieve in the future, including to have healthy forests, waters and wildlife in balance with outdoor recreation.
Kim Marquis is the project and outreach coordinator for Envision Chaffee County.