Vail Valley ‘Front Ranger’ program has helped clean up local Forest Service property |

Vail Valley ‘Front Ranger’ program has helped clean up local Forest Service property

The seasonal employees were funded by all the communities in Eagle County

A seasonal crew of "Front Rangers" working on the Eagle Holy Cross Ranger District has started work on a comprehensive inventory of all the "dispersed camping" sites on the district.
By the numbers
  • 2,500: Pounds of garbage removed.
  • 117: Instances of human waste handled.
  • 89: User-created fire rings were destroyed.
  • 13: Unattended fires were doused.

VAIL — A little help goes a long way.

Local communities in 2019 contributed a total of $120,000 to the U.S. Forest Service for what the agency calls a “Front Ranger” program.

Paula Peterson leads the recreation staff for the Eagle Holy Cross Ranger District. In a recent presentation to the Vail Town Council, Peterson detailed the work done by the Front Ranger program.

The local contribution, which began early this year, enabled the Forest Service to hire four seasonal employees to work within five to 10 miles of local communities. Those people had a lot to do.

Cleaning up the forest

The summer crew worked to remove garbage and waste from dispersed campsites — campsites not in established campgrounds — and worked on a still-incomplete inventory of those sites. The crew also helped spot and extinguish unattended campfires.

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But the most unpleasant job had to be cleaning human waste left by people using dispersed campsites — which, by definition, have no latrines.

Peterson said the four-person crew cleaned up 117 instances of human waste found at those campsites. As a preseason precaution, all the Front Rangers received hepatitis vaccines.

The Front Rangers also helped clean up more than 2,500 pounds of garbage from those and other sites.

The crew also shut down some dispersed sites. Peterson said there were some dispersed sites along the Piney River that were too close to the stream.

Other cleanup jobs included helping clean up the shooting range near Minturn. Working with volunteers who use the site, enough trash was collected to fill two large, roll-off dumpsters.

Having a crew of four greatly expanded the amount of work done. In 2018, the district had only one person to handle those jobs across several hundred thousand acres of public land.

The Front Rangers were also on the lookout for people who were living on the national forest.

People are allowed to camp for up to 14 days, then have to find a new spot. Peterson said the Front Rangers found 56 suspected residential campsites. Aside from telling someone to move along, Peterson said true enforcement has to come from a Forest Service law enforcement officer. The closest officers to this district are in Summit County or Leadville.

A focus on education

But, Peterson said, the goal is more education than enforcement.

Still, she added, “We’d rather have (long-term campers) in a campground with some sanitation services.”

Responding to a question from Vail Town Councilwoman Jenn Bruno, Peterson said it’s hard to tell if someone is living in the forest out of necessity.

As Colorado’s population grows, so does public land use. The trailheads in Vail have grown busier over the years.

The trail to Booth Lake has become one of the most heavily-used in or near Vail.

Peterson noted there were more than 31,000 visitors on the Booth Lake Trail in 2018. Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger told council members that’s an increase from about 9,000 visitors just a decade ago.

That’s created parking and sanitation problems at that and other trailheads in Vail.

Councilwoman Kim Langmaid noted that she’s heard about encounters between humans, dogs and mountain goats.

Peterson said the Forest Service wants to get rangers out of parking areas and on the trails.

That’s going to take more than just a few seasonal employees.

Councilman Travis Coggin said the town and Forest Service need to work more on education before implementing parking bans or other traffic-limiting tactics.

“Let’s just kill everybody with messaging,” Coggin said. “The other things are too heavy-handed.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at or 970-748-2930.

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