Dogs at Conundrum will put humans in hot water |

Dogs at Conundrum will put humans in hot water

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesDogs have been banished from the popular Conundrum Hot Springs, south of Aspen, but they are permitted as far as Silver Dollar Pond, 5.5 miles up the trail on the Aspen side. Signs posted at the trailhead explain the rules.

ASPEN – Dog days at the popular Conundrum Hot Springs south of Aspen are ending.

The Conundrum Valley to either side of the hot springs was posted as closed to dogs in July, when the signs ordered by the U.S. Forest Service arrived. Since then, agency rangers patrolling the backcountry have been talking to backpackers and day hikers about the new rules – an education push that precedes hard-and-fast enforcement of the regulations, said Kevin Warner, forestry technician with the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, who also has duties in wilderness management.

Next season, those who bring dogs to the hot springs will be ticketed, he said. The typical fine is $120.

The hot springs see 2,000 or more visitors each summer. The combination of people and dogs has become too much, and barking dogs can degrade from what is supposed to be a Wilderness experience, Warner said.

In addition, dogs left tied up at campsites may dig holes and cause other damage. And there’s also the issue of poop.

“When you get too much of a concentration of people and too big a concentration of dogs, that can be a problem,” he said. “We just thought that this was a good first step.”

Concern about bacteria from waste isn’t just limited to dogs, though. A 2006 study found that 71 percent of the campsites near Conundrum had partially unburied solid waste, and water at the springs has tested positive in the past for fecal coliform, according to the Forest Service.

So, last year, the agency began supplying human poop bags and encouraging visitors to pack out their waste.

It’s an unusual step, but the hot springs see concentrated, heavy use compared to most destinations within the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area. There is no where else in the Wilderness area where dogs are prohibited.

Hikers will find signs notifying them of the pooch prohibition at trailheads for Conundrum Hot Springs on both the Aspen and Crested Butte sides, but the entire trail is not closed to dogs. On the Crested Butte side, there’s another sign at Triangle Pass; on the Aspen side, there’s a second sign at Silver Dollar Pond, 5.5 miles from the trailhead – or there was, until somebody removed it. It will be replaced next season.

When the Forest Service took public comment on the prohibition, citizens said they liked being able to walk their dogs up the valley from the Aspen side, which offers a gentle grade, so the agency decided it wouldn’t close the entire valley to dogs, Warner said. On the Aspen side, leashed dogs can travel the trail up to Silver Dollar Pond; on the Crested Butte side, they can go as far as Triangle Pass. It’s only center section, containing the hot springs, that is off limits.

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