Vail’s Booth Falls trail may be next for a Forest Service management plan
Hanging Lake restrictions
The U.S. Forest Service is in the final stages of creating a management plan for overuse of the Hanging Lake trail in Glenwood Canyon. The White River National Forest’s website has the plan and associated documents.
VAIL — As local trails become more popular, officials are looking at ways to enforce current restrictions and eyeing ideas for future restrictions in too-popular areas.
Perhaps the most troubling violation of current restriction is people venturing onto trails that have been closed to protect wildlife.
Forest Service officials last year put cameras along the North Trail, which runs through Vail as well as Forest Service land. At the time, the trail was closed. Those cameras spotted more than 200 people on the trails in just 10 days.
Those closures are essential to preserve local wildlife populations. Most closures come during calving season, when animals are most vulnerable.
Speaking to the Vail Town Council on Tuesday, Feb. 20, District Ranger Aaron Mayville said he believes better education could cut down on the number of future violations.
In a subsequent telephone conversation, Mayville said education is needed on all trails that run adjacent to neighborhoods. But, he repeated, he remains optimistic that education can help.
Contacted after Tuesday’s meeting, Vail Town Council member Kim Langmaid said both locals and visitors are “loving to death” a number of popular trails.
What about Booth Falls?
One of the most popular is the Booth Falls trail, which leads from East Vail into the Eagles Nest Wilderness.
That trail has drawn a number of resident complaints about parking in the neighborhood. Other complaints focus on trail damage and off-leash dogs.
Mayville told the council that the Forest Service is now in the early stages of creating a management plan for the Booth Falls trail. If that comes to pass, Booth Falls will join Vail Pass, Maroon Bells and Hanging Lake as spots where public-land managers have taken extra steps to control access to those places.
At Hanging Lake, a plan is nearly complete that in peak season will close the parking area in Glenwood Canyon and will instead require hikers to take buses to the trailhead. The trail will also be limited to 615 users per day.
A process starting this summer at Booth Falls will require overnight hikers to register at the trailhead. Future research will determine current use, trail health and other factors.
It’s a time-consuming process. Mayville said serious research into the Hanging Lake plan started in 2012. During that time, trail-user numbers skyrocketed. The trail saw approximately 78,000 users in 2012. The 2017 number was 184,000.
Booth Falls doesn’t see that level of use. Still, Mayville said, the issue is what level of use an area can handle. That number varies from place to place.
New methods needed
Mayville, whose management district includes Vail Pass and Hanging Lake, said those management plans are the wave of the future, especially in the White River National Forest. That forest — the most-visited national forest in the country — includes the state’s most popular ski areas, with Interstate 70 running through its heart.
Colorado’s population growth has driven even more visits to the forest, along with other public land in the state.
“It’s giving us pause,” Mayville said. “The traditional way of managing isn’t cutting it any more.”
Part of the Forest Service’s challenge is stagnant or shrinking budgets. Combine that with increasing use, and it’s hard to keep up with growing needs.
Those needs can be as simple as enforcing wildlife restrictions.
While cameras can catch people violating seasonal trail closures, there isn’t the manpower available to issue citations.
Langmaid said town code enforcement officers could help, as long as people are on trail segments within the town.
Volunteers can help, too. The Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association has over the past couple of summers helped create an adopt-a-trail program. The group also spearheaded an effort to fund a seasonal Forest Service employee to help with management and enforcement.
That partnership and others are essential to maintain public lands.
Mayville noted the district he manages includes eight towns, as well as county and various other local governments.
“We have partnerships with all of them,” he said.
The idea of partnerships has “been a buzzword for many years. Now it’s just how we operate,” Mayville added.
Those partnerships may need to expand in the future.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Langmaid said a valley-wide education campaign is needed. That could include creating some sort of code of conduct for trail users.
Beyond that, Langmaid suggested working with hotel concierge staffs so they can provide nearby alternatives to popular trails if those trails are busy or under seasonal closure orders.
In a post-meeting conversation, Langmaid said what’s needed is a “valley-wide community ethic” about wildlife. “We need to understand how to behave,” she said.
Mayville said he’s optimistic that land managers and the local community can make the valley’s trails better for both humans and wildlife.
“We have the same interests,” he said. “People live here because of public land and what it provides … Not everyone agrees all the time, but the public is supportive of what we’re trying to do.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org or @scottnmiller.