Forest Service investigates paintball play
Officials in a Summit County U.S. Forest Service office are investigating paintball activity occurring on public land near Frisco. More than a dozen lean-to’s, wooden barricades and a plastic fence were erected in about an acre of forest land along the Peaks Trail south of Frisco. Those were disassembled late last week. But despite rain and snow late last week, paint splotches remain on dozens of trees in the area, and paint balls or pieces of paint balls are still laying on the forest floor – although there are many fewer than the hundreds strewn about a few days ago. According to Ken Waugh, district recreation staff officer with the Dillon Ranger District, playing paintball is illegal on national forest land. The office received several calls about the activity and opened an investigation to stop the use of Forest Service land for paintball and possibly issue tickets.Waugh said several regulations appear to have been violated at the Frisco site. Damaging a natural feature or property of the United States, constructing any kind of structure, fence or enclosure and abandoning personal property can garner fines ranging from $500 to $5,000, he said.
“It’s similar to the ‘Leave No Trace’ program on wilderness, where you shouldn’t leave behind signs that you were there,” Waugh said. “It’s the same as littering or graffiti. It’s supposed to be a natural environment.”Paintball is a sport growing in popularity where teams of players engage in a game similar to tag, but use guns called “markers” that shoot balls of vegetable-based paint.Jason Waite, owner of Peak 1 Paintball – a supply store that opened in Frisco less than two weeks ago – said he had heard of people playing the game in Frisco, but he hadn’t talked with the Forest Service and was unaware of the agency’s regulations. Waite said that rather than recommend areas to play, he tells customers to log on to a Web site designed as a meeting source for players. Waite said he had visited the Frisco forest site, but had not played there.”I’ve been here only a week so I drove out there to find it,” he said. “I will tell people not to go up to that field if it’s mentioned in my shop.”The Web site Waite mentioned does not list the Frisco paintball field, but does list another local field located a few miles past Montezuma along Montezuma Road. The Web site supplies a map and invites play on Monday nights, when there is apparently a weekly tournament. There is a pay-to-play paintball field on private land at Camp Hale outside of Leadville and several fields in Denver, Waite said, but no private field in Summit County for the game. He said the paint balls sold in his shop are 100 percent biodegradable and colored with food-based dye.”One rain and it’s gone,” he said. But Waugh said paint that remains in the forest after the game is the same as litter or graffiti and constitutes damage. “The paint balls themselves sometimes don’t explode so they end up on the ground,” Waugh said. “The paint itself is biodegradable but it takes time. Until however long it takes to biodegrade, the paint is on the rocks and trees.”
Waugh offered the example of an aluminum can thrown on the ground.”Well that’s biodegradable, as it will be gone in 50 years but in the meantime it’s still a can on the ground; it’s still litter,” Waugh said. Waugh recommended that paintball players form a club, elect a representative and open a dialogue with the Forest Service if they want to play on public land.”This is not a problem unique to this area, so we need to do some research,” Waugh said. “If it’s a recreation activity people want to do, we need to work with them and help find another place for them to do it.”