Front Country Rangers in Eagle County removed 3 tons of trash from US Forest Service land in 2022
The small crew does a lot of education and cleanup
The Front Country Rangers, a small crew of U.S. Forest Service employees and interns, stay pretty busy in the summer.
District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis and Trish Barrere, both in the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District, provided an update Tuesday to the Eagle County Board of Commissioners on the outfit’s 2022 activities.
- 16: Unattended campfires put out in 2022, down from 24 in 2021
- 1,409: Total public contacts
- 104: Bags of dog waste removed, down from 544 in 2021
- 360: Piles of human waste buried. Half were up Gypsum Creek
Much of the work involved just having educational talks with people. Many of those contacts were with people in dispersed camping sites.
Visiting people at those sites gives rangers a chance to talk to people they may not otherwise have contacted.
Barrere said those contacts provide an opportunity to provide information on forest rules and regulations ranging from food storage to safe campfire use. The rangers also focus on hiker education on the trails out of East Vail. That education includes “leave no trace” methods as well as informing hikers how to safely watch wildlife.
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Sometimes dispersed camping sites are too close to creeks and ponds. Sometimes campers need to be reminded they can only stay in one site for seven days before they have to move to another site at least 3 miles away. The rules change to 14 days starting in October to accommodate hunters.
People camping in dispersed sites often leave a mess in their wake. Rangers last summer removed more than 1,000 pounds of garbage from those dispersed sites, about 17% of all the garbage removed from the forest last year. In all, rangers removed more than 3 tons of garbage from the forest, about 30% more than what was removed in 2021.
A lot of that trash — almost 18% — was removed from the shooting range near Minturn. That site received weekly visits for both cleanup and education.
Rangers also buried 185 piles of human waste from the dispersed sites. About half of all the human waste buried was up Gypsum Creek, Barrere said.
Sometimes waste cleanup requires more than just a shovel and a strong stomach. One of the vault toilets at the Yeoman Park campground was loaded up with trash. Those toilets can’t be pumped out if there’s trash in them. The Ranger crew had to fish out the trash for disposal before the toilet could be pumped out.
That crew was taken to lunch, Barrere said.
Only five people patrol more than 650,000 acres — more than 1,000 square miles — of public land that includes two wilderness areas, two ski areas and miles of roads and trails.
Eagle County is one of the primary funding sources for the program. Marcia Gilles, the county director of open space and natural resources, told the commissioners that the annual funding of between $120,000 and $150,000 — split between the county and valley towns — is money well spent. It’s also a “great example” of collaborative efforts between local and federal agencies.
Commissioner Matt Scherr noted that the local contributions still only “scratch the surface” of what’s needed for public land maintenance, making a pitch for the federal Ski Hill Resources for Economic Development Act — more commonly referred to as the SHRED Act.
Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry said the county’s contribution to the Front Country Ranger program is “pretty easy to justify,” adding that the county has a “great relationship” with the Forest Service.