Vail, Forest Service look for ways to ease trail overuse
It could take years to have formal restrictions imposed on popular trails
Word of mouth is a powerful thing, in business and in recreation. Vail Town Councilmember Brian Stockmar thinks some of the trails that originate in town need a bit of boosting.
Town officials, as well as managers with the U.S. Forest Service, have for the past couple of years talked about ways to limit use, and overuse, on the town’s most popular trails, including the Booth Creek trail.
Use on public lands throughout Colorado exploded in 2020, as people sought ways to escape COVID-19 restrictions.
Eagle Holy Cross District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis said she doesn’t expect that use to decrease any time soon. That means popular trails will be under even more pressure, and a thoughtless few will scatter trash and other waste as they go.
Pressure on well-used trails can result in restrictions on use. The most notable example in this area is the Hanging Lake Trail, which is also in the Eagle Holy Cross district.
Veldhuis has only been the ranger on the local district since 2020, but noted it took almost seven years for the federal process to play out to impose those restrictions.
A lot to consider
While town and Forest Service officials have been talking about ways to restrict access to the Booth Creek trail, Veldhuis said there’s a lot to consider. There are studies to be done and public input to be considered. And, Veldhuis added, she and other land managers seriously consider the tradeoff between protecting an area and limiting public access to public land.
Given the time needed for formal action, Veldhuis said there are other tactics to consider.
“Once trails become known and popular by word of mouth, we see more and more use,” Veldhuis said. People check apps for popular trails, or ask hotel concierges for advice.
Part of controlling use is increasing public awareness of other areas, Veldhuis said.
“We need to figure out to spread out the use,” Velduis said. “We don’t see the use decreasing this summer.”
Stockmar has hiked most of the trails around Vail. He said while there may not be waterfalls or lakes along those trails, the experience is still remarkable.
While many of these trails originate in Vail, Stockmar said he’s not sure the town has a “clear cut mechanism” to control access.
“I absolutely support the right of people to access the backcountry,” Stockmar said. “But I do not support the damage (a small number of users) do.”
Efforts to restrict access aren’t always successful, either. Stockmar noted that some people ignore gates put up for seasonal trail closures. And, he added, enforcement is difficult.
Try this instead
Stockmar believes that encouraging people to use other trails could help ease some of the pressure. The Pitkin Creek trail is lovely, and sees far less use than Booth Creek, Stockmar said. The Bighorn trail is another great hike, he added.
Guiding people to alternatives could be done through the town, or the Forest Service, or local trail groups, Stockmar said. Newspaper articles, brochures and online guides could also be helpful, he added.
Stockmar has also lobbied the Vail Town Council to impose paid parking on the town’s frontage roads. Using pay stations similar those found in cities could generate a bit of money to help pay for road maintenance.
They don’t have to be intrusive,” he said.
But, Stockmar added, the town’s most popular trails are being damaged by public overuse.
“Booth has been loved to death,” he said.