Eagle River Watershed Council: Protecting our community also means protecting public lands | VailDaily.com

Eagle River Watershed Council: Protecting our community also means protecting public lands

Kate Isaacson
The Current

As the weather warms up and the snow line recedes, many of us are wanting to throw together a campout with family and friends, coming together in a joyous celebration of all that nature has to offer. Whether it is solely for the experience of camping, to gather with loved ones or to access the recreational activities that the campsite location provides — most of us mountain residents enjoy and rely on these precious spaces scattered throughout the forests.

However, our spring looks different this year, with many of us dreaming of the days when we could get outside in groups without having to adhere to important COVID-19 regulations and social distancing.

In this time of uncertainty, I have found myself reflecting upon what matters most in my life and, personally, a pristine natural environment to play in and appreciate is at the top of my list. I encourage others to take this (forced) time to slow down and reflect on what nature means to you. For most of us, it equates to health and physical and mental wellness, social opportunities and kid-like joy, aesthetic and wildlife entertainment, and for some, even job security.  

These invaluable resources are not all endlessly renewable and need protection. As community members who likely live here due in part to recreation made possible by the local ecosystems, we tend to take notice when protective regulations are not being followed. Who among us has not encountered a campsite with campfire rings abutting the pristine gurgling mountain stream, untreated human waste and trash strewn about, along with cigarette butts and broken bottles littering the ground? 

It is an unfortunate story that is all-too-common locally, resulting in many camping areas in the Eagle Valley being abused and overused, which compounds the issues.

The Piney River drainage, north of Vail near Piney Lake and one of such popular camping sites, sees large groups, recurring annual campouts and lengthy retreats. These events are in areas interspersed between a pristine mountain lake, alpine river and sensitive wetland and riparian vegetation zones. To help combat such issues, in the fall of 2019, Eagle River Watershed Council partnered with the United States Forest Service Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger District to rehabilitate several non-compliant campsites, fire rings, and unauthorized user-created vehicle routes, with the help of volunteers from the Vail Resorts Retail/ Vail EpicPromise group. Notable project accomplishments include one mile of roadway decommissioned, three large non-compliant campsites restored, 150 pounds of native grass seed laid, and 50 rolls of erosion control fabric/60 bales of wood straw placed for protection of the revegetation work.

The days when we can frolic in the woods with our friends will come again, but we don’t need to fall back into habits of overuse and forget to protect our beloved natural resources. When the COVID-19 dust settles and we are able to fully enjoy the outdoors, please tap into your gratitude and set forth with a community-first mindset. We have changed our daily habits to protect our community members, now we have a chance to switch outdoor habits to ones of stewardship — protecting these limited and precious resources for all to enjoy, indefinitely. 

Protect our public lands! Please abide by regulations, respect trail closures and tread lightly.

Camp only where it is allowed

  • Select a site at least 100 feet away from any lake, stream, river or trail.
  • Use the Motor Vehicle Use Map to determine if the road you are using allows for dispersed camping.
  • Be aware of and respect the rights of private property owners within public land boundaries.

Abide by regulations

  • Know what the current fire restrictions are and abide by them no matter what. Never leave a fire unattended — be sure to fully extinguish all fires before leaving the site. 
  • Abide by the 14-day limit for dispersed sites.
  • Park in designated areas along the road, or just off the road. Do not drive more than 300 feet from established trails. 
  • Keep dogs and other pets leashed and under control. Not only can they frighten other campers, wildlife is often disturbed by pets and their habits change due to the interaction. 
  • Use biodegradable soap for all washing needs (dishes, hands, etc.) Do not wash dishes in streams, rivers or lakes as even biodegradable soaps degrade water quality and injure fish and other aquatic life. 

Leave no trace

  • Leave the site better than you found it. Pack out everything you brought and more.
  • Have a plan for how you will properly dispose of human waste and be sure to bring proper tools and supplies to do so.
  • Use existing campsites rather than creating a new site.
  • Using a camp stove has less of an environmental impact than traditional fires. 

Be prepared

  • Bring first-aid and emergency supplies.
  • Know your water sources and how to properly treat water for human consumption. Bring water from a domestic source if possible.

For further questions about responsible camping ethics, visit the USFS resource page or contact our local ranger station. Be sure to allow ample time for responses as the USFS team is currently working tirelessly through COVID19 concerns to plan and implement severely needed summer restoration efforts in times of uncertain regulations and staffing.

Kate Isaacson is the projects and events Coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education, and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at (970) 827-5406 or visit erwc.org.

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