Hauling out trash, stopping fires before they start — all in a day’s work for Front Country Rangers
Locally-funded program provides additional background patrols for White River National Forest
As they collected nearly 4,000 pounds of trash, 544 bags of dog poo and 300 piles of human waste, the Front Country Ranger Program in the White River National Forest made the backcountry experience a little bit better for everyone who trekked to the nearby woods in 2021.
The program also proved an old adage, albeit with a twist — if you want something done right, pay for it yourself.
The program was launched a few years ago, as local leaders bemoaned how perpetually shrinking federal budgets meant less services for people who recreate in the White River National Forest. Eagle County officials floated the idea of supplementing the Forest Service budget to pay for increased local patrols, and from there, a program was born. The county and various municipalities contribute $120,000 annually, and the Front Country Rangers provides seven-day-per-week summertime presence in the most heavily used portions of the local forest. The programs has five management priorities:
- Fire Restriction Enforcement and Fire Prevention
- Monitor Residential Users
- Waste and Abandoned Property
- Public Outreach and Contacts
During a work session with the Eagle County Board of Commissioners this week, Eagle/Holy Cross District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis and Recreation Specialist Paula Peterson presented stats from the 2021 Front Country Ranger program. Last summer’s crew of five Forest Service employees and three interns completed a total of 265 patrols.
With the Lake Christine, Grizzly Creek and Sylvan Lake fires fresh in the collective county memory, the Front Country Rangers’ efforts regarding fire restriction enforcement and fire prevention are highly valued by the local jurisdictions that fund the program.
Peterson noted program rangers extinguished 24 unattended fires last summer. “Those are 24 fires that didn’t become wildfires,” she said. Additionally, rangers extinguished two active fires, where campers were present, during fire restriction periods, and the Eagle’s Nest Fire was reported by a Front Country Ranger. On the prevention front, rangers dismantled 69 rock rings for compliance with fire restrictions.
Managing dispersed camping sites
During 2021, Front Country Rangers visited nearly 1,000 camping sites and contacted 2,029 visitors. Approximately 20% — 413 contacts — happened in the Homestake area, which is the most popular dispersed camping venue in the county.
Rangers recorded 115 educational law enforcement contacts and issued 12 warnings last summer. Additionally, they found 22 suspected residential uses, up from just six in 2020.
Fewer folks, more trash
The COVID-19 pandemic brought more people to the backcountry in 2020. That slowed a bit in 2021 but not much.
“People were introduced to their public lands, and they kept coming,” Peterson said.
They also left behind approximately 1,000 more pounds of trash. Rangers carried out 131 bags of trash last summer. As Peterson noted, at an average of 30 pounds per trash bag, that’s about 3,930 pounds of garbage removed from the forest. That compares to 1,850 pounds in 2020.
Along with hauling out the trash, the rangers regularly worked to improve the atmosphere along local trails. The East Vail trailheads, for example, were collectively visited 62 times this summer, and during those visits, rangers made 672 contacts and issued 87 educational warnings. The majority of those warnings were about off-leash dogs, Peterson said.
Last summer presented several opportunities for Front Country Ranger projects, Peterson continued. Crews installed “No I-70 detour” signs to redirect motorists during the extended Glenwood Canyon closure, built fencing along Shrine Ridge to protect subalpine meadows from unauthorized motorized access and installed a travel management gate and information kiosk along Gypsum Creek Road.
Rangers worked with volunteers from the Wildridge Trail Coalition to build a 1,000-foot barrier fence on Windy Point Road and with members of the Vail Rotary Club to refinish and paint Julia’s Deck along Shrine Pass. A Rocky Mountain Youth Corps Partnership at Deep Lake Campground found rangers partnering on hazard tree mitigation and removal and heavy campground maintenance. Another partnership with Walking Mountain Science Center removed graffiti from the historic Camp Hale Rifle Range site.
As they concluded their presentation about 2021 efforts, Veldhuis and Peterson noted there is already work lined up for rangers in 2022, if the county and local municipalities opt to continue funding Front Country Rangers.
“The great part of this program is we have the ability to respond to areas that need it most,” Peterson said.
“I think this program is pretty successful, and the towns are happy to partner in it,” said Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll. He said other jusisdictions around the state have reached out to him with questions about the program because they are interested forming their own Forest Service partnerships.
But there is interest in finding long-term money to continue the effort, Shroll said. Specifically, he noted local officials are hopeful funding from the SHRED Act will provide long-term funding for the Front Country Rangers.