Showing posts with label Rocky Mountain National Park. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rocky Mountain National Park. Show all posts

May 25, 2021

Black Bear Bolts in Rocky Mountain National Park (Updated with Video)

Young black bear boar runs for freedom (National Park Service)

At six a.m. last Thursday (the 20th) this young male black bear and his "cellmate" had some visitors: three National Park Service employees and two Colorado game wardens. The last were there to instruct the former in the fine points (heh) of darting and tranquilizing bears.

The two "boys" (subadults) came down from Rocky Mountain National Park to a rehabilitation center in southern Colorado after the East Troublesome Fire last year. They spent the winter getting fat — and somewhat bored — until finally it was time to release them in a area not so much frequented by park visitors.

One of the NPS staffers reported, "The boys were very well-behaved and calm on the trip. The release went really well — away from visitors."

The GPS-tracking collar shown is designed to come off after a time.

I would probably enjoy traveling up I-25 through Denver more if I could be tranquilized in a windowless trailer too.*


The rehabbers were curious if the two bears would pal around together for a time, but the GPS evidence said they did not.

"The bears stuck together for less than two minutes before going in separate directions. They're sub adults and their genetics are telling them to go off and find their own territories," one of the NPS stafers reported.

* Actually, bears in transit are usually recovering from the anesthesia with the aid of another drug. For one thing, it means one will not end up lying on top of the other and possibly smothering it. An exception might be if they have to be moved from the transport trailer on a sled or something, where they need to be kept quiet longer.


May 24, 2021

Turds, Trash, and Tire Tracks: The Car-Camping Pendulum Swings Again

1925 Ford Model T touring car (Wikipedia).
A century ago, our national forests had a problem. Behind the wheels of their Ford Model T's and other cars, Americans re-discovered camping. Soon over-used favorite camping areas were littered with trash, human waste, multple firepits, unauthorized roads, and all the other bad effects.

The US Forest Service was fifteen years old and trying to get a handle on "scientific" forest management, firefighting, and grazing management. It was part of the Department of Agriculture. ("We're tree-farmers," an old-school district ranger once told me.)

Recreation management was not on their to-do list. That was the National Park Service's job—different agency, different department—the Interior Department. 

Davenport Campground, 1920s, San Isabel National Forest,
southern Colorado, designed by Arthur Carhart as one
of the first automobile campgrounds.

The Model-T generation changed all that, driving and camping everyplace instead of taking the train and shuttling to a big resort hotel like the Old Faithful Inn.

By the early 1920s the Forest Service hired landscape architect (and wilderness advocate) Arthur Carhart to figure how to manage these automobile recreationists.

For more on Carhart's influence on southern Colorado, start here: "Looking for Squirrel Creek Lodge, Part 1."

The Forest Service built campgrounds up through the 1960s and 1970s, but the 1980s — the Reagan years — saw the pendulum swing the other. A couple of Carhart's recreational areas near me were closed in the early 1980s "due to lack of funding for maintenance." In the 1980s and 1990s, local Forest Service managers sang the praises of "dispersed camping." 

(But Daveport Campground, pictured above, was re-built in the early 2000s to re-create its 1920s appearance. Retro-camping with federal dollars — who knew?)

Everything Old Is New Again, Including Turds and Trash

Some people blame the COVID pandemic. I don't know, but suddenly car-camping (and hiking) is really popular. Some headlines:


"Nature 'more important than ever during lockdown'"

More than 40% of people say nature, wildlife and visiting local green spaces have been even more important to their wellbeing since the coronavirus restrictions began.

"Colorado public land managers rely on education, then enforcement to deal with a crush of long-term campers"

Closing heavily used campsites is public lands “triage” as Forest Service and local officials struggle to protect natural resources from a growing wave of backcountry campers and explorers this summer.

"Consultants present potential solutions to mitigate overcrowding issues at Quandary Peak and nearby trailheads"

As events were canceled last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, other activities — like hiking Quandary Peak, McCullough Gulch and Blue Lakes trails — skyrocketed in popularity. The influx of visitors to these areas last summer caused a barrage of issues like speeding, congestion, lack of parking and safety concerns

"Reservations will be required for Brainard Lake, Mount Evans beginning in June"
Some areas of Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests that allowed “dispersed” camping will be converted to day-use only


"Which Public Lands Are Right for You?"

Your bucket list should go beyond national parks. This decision tree will help you find lesser known locations with half the crowds. [Also more Instagrammable.—CSC]

Even if it is true that headliner national parks (like Great Smoky Mountains and Grand Canyon) saw fewer visitors due to COVID-related shut-downs, camping on close-in public lands has exploded.  Here in Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park visitation is up 44 percent over ten years, and the NPS wants a reservation system permanently. Not everyone likes that idea.

Suddenly, that loosely managed "dispersed camping" is being managed, heavily. There is a new term: "designated dispersed."

 
"Managed Designated Dispersed Camping Begins on South Platte Ranger District"

Rocky Mountain Recreation will begin managing 99 designated dispersed camp sites on the South Platte Ranger District portion of Rampart Range Road starting Friday, May 21. Each campsite is numbered, and designated parking areas are marked. Thirty of the campsites are available for reservation through recreation.gov and 69 sites are first come, first serve. Campers will be issued a tag to hang in their vehicle. Reserved sites will have a “Reservation” card posted at the campsite with the name of the visitor.

 On the Pike and San Isabel National Forests, the popular Rampart Range dispersed camping area near Woodland Park now has a complicated map. (Facebook link here.)


In the long run, maybe the USFS just needs more developed campsites, with regular maintenance, campground hosts, the whole business — or else a concessionaire to run them.

October 22, 2020

The Kid Was Tougher than He Looked

Some of the same Scouts, on a five-night trip the next summer.
The other kid's initials were R. A., so I will call him that, in case he ever Google-stalks himself. Later on, his mother would be one of my English teachers at Fort Collins High School. I was 14, and he was younger — 12? 11? 

We were both members of Boy Scout Troop 97 in Fort Collins. Wayne Parsons, the scoutmaster, was on the staff of the Roosevelt National Forest there (as yet unconsolidated with the Arapaho), and he was all about outdoor experiences and outdoor projects. We never did a service project in town, and that was fine with me. (It looks like Troop 97 still tries to be outdoors-focused.)

This event was to be an overnight backpack trip in Rocky Mountain National Park. We would start at the Bear Lake Trailhead, cross the Continental Divide on Flattop Mountain, camp somewhere, and then descend to the little resort town of Grand Lake, on the park's western edge. 

My mother picked up R. A. and drove us to Bear Lake. For some reason, we had been delayed, and when we arrived, the others had already left. 

Crossing the Continental Divide
on Flattop Mountain, 12,000 feet.

"It's OK," we said, not wanting to be quitters. "We'll catch up to them." Satisfied, she drove away. We started walking, up onto the high plateau that Flattop its name, at about 12,000 feet. A line of cairns guided us across this treeless plateau. Overall, it was a fine August day.

But then we came to a junction. To the left was (I think) the North Inlet Trail, which was just under 13 miles to Grand Lake. To the right was another trail (Tonahutu Creek), which was a bit longer, about 14 miles, making the entire trip about 17–18 miles.

We had to make a choice. R. A. looked to me. I guessed that Our Fearless Leader would take the longer trail. I was wrong.

We walked. On and on we walked, dropping steeply from alpine meadow into forest. We stopped for a snack. The sun was sinking. The forest was thick and dark, Troop 97 was nowhere in sight, and we were tired. After a bit more hiking, we agreed that we had to stop.

A view down from Flattop,
before I stopped taking pictures.
We did have sleeping bags, we had food, and the weather was fine. We knew in a general sense where we were. R. A., bless his heart, never said, "You dummy! You took the wrong trail!" but just kept his thoughts to himself.

He was wearing high-top sneakers, which were the recommended hiking gear for youngsters with fast-growing feet. I saw that a blister had popped and bled through the canvas a little. He had never uttered a word about that. I had Bandaids at least.

The next morning we rose early, rolled up our sleeping bags, ate something, and started walking. We did not know where the pickup point was or when pickup was scheduled, and our new fear was that we would be left behind in Grand Lake.

I remember once we saw a sign that said something like "Grand Lake 6.2 mi." We walked and walked and then there was another sign, "Grand Lake 6 mi." (or whatever the whole number was), and we opined that that was a very long two-tenths mile.

Finally we came down through some tourist cabins and out onto a paved street. No sign of other Boy Scouts. I had enough money in my pocket for one celebratory Coca-Cola. We located the end of the trail that we should have come on. Then we waited. And we waited.

Eventually, after maybe two hours, the rest of the Scouts marched out of the woods. They probably had lazed around camp making pancakes or something while we were on our forced march to Grand Lake.

Some of the parents made room in their cars for us. I don't know whether we came back over Trail Ridge Road (US 34) or down US 40 (probably) but somehow we returned to Fort Collins. And it was no big deal. I don't remember anyone fussing over R. A. and me.

All of that might be burned now. Probably is. The East Troublesome Fire looks to be climbing up the same drainage that we walked down. Now that is something to think about.