Front Country Rangers a big help in local forests
Program now entering its fourth year
Humans can be messy creatures. That can be bad news in the public lands that make up most of the property in Eagle County.
Helping clean up is a big part of the job Front Country Rangers do. Given the increase in public land visitation the past couple of years, that workforce, funded by a consortium of local governments and the U.S. Forest Service, has been busy.
The Vail Town Council recently heard an update about the program’s activity in 2021, presented by local U.S. Forest Service Recreation Manager Paula Peterson.
The Front Country Ranger program is starting its fourth season this year. The two-person crew will be bolstered with a group of three interns from the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps.
Still, there’s a lot of public land and not many people patrolling it. That means rangers are sent different places through a typical work week. No matter where they’re deployed, there’s a lot of work to do.
Lots of contacts
In dispersed camping areas — people camping just off roads and not in established campgrounds — there were more than 2,000 visitor contacts. Roughly 20% of those visits were in the Homestake area. Many of those visits focus on fire restriction enforcement and education about forest rules and regulations. Some of those visited are issued warnings. But it’s hard to keep up with law enforcement issues since citations have to be issued by rangers who are sworn officers. There are only a handful of those officers available.
But all contacts and reports are increasing.
For instance, rangers in 2021 responded to 22 instances of “residential” camping — those who stay beyond the standard seven-day limit. There were just six of those investigations in 2020.
Front Country Rangers, volunteers and others take on plenty of maintenance and improvement jobs. Work in 2021 included installing “No I-70 Detour” signs on forest roads to keep motorists from trying to find alternatives when Interstate 70 was closed in Glenwood Canyon.
Projects also included building fencing on Forest Service Road 709 on Shrine Ridge to protect subalpine meadows from motorized use. Another project put up a kiosk and travel management gate for forest user education on Gypsum Creek Road.
Working with the Wildridge Trail Coalition, a 1,000-foot barrier fence was built on Windy Point Road. The Vail Rotary Club helped refinish and paint Julia’s Deck.
There was plenty of work done with the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps Partnership at the Deep Lake Campground, and a week-long project with Walking Mountains Science Center interns.
Lots, and lots, of trash
But there’s also a lot of work to pick up after visitors, or to encourage responsible trail use.
Peterson said unleashed dogs are a constant challenge, even when trail ambassadors are present to hand out leashes. Ambassadors also hand out a lot of waste bags for both humans and pets.
Shrine Pass saw the most dog waste, with 142 piles bagged. But about 300 piles of human waste were picked up.
Hikers this year will have to be “self-contained” for human waste in the Homestake area, since toilet facilities will be closed down. The Forest Service will hand out waste bags, and Peterson said she hopes people will use them.
“It’s horrible out there,” she said.
Then there was just plain trash. Peterson said crews in 2021 removed 131 bags of garbage from the forest. At an average of 30 pounds per bag, that’s about 3,930 pounds of trash — nearly two tons. Crews in 2020 removed 1,850 pounds of trash.
The program this year will focus more on what’s called the “Three E’s” — education, engineering and enforcement.
But there will probably still be plenty of trash.