Forest Service releases draft Decision on Maroon Bells –Snowmass Wilderness Overnight Visitor Use Management Plan

Forest Service releases draft Decision on Maroon Bells –Snowmass Wilderness Overnight Visitor Use Management Plan

Aspen, Colo. – June 29, 2017 – The Forest Service announces the release of the draft Decision for the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Overnight Visitor Use Management Plan (Plan). The Deciding Official, White River National Forest Supervisor, Scott Fitzwilliams, has chosen to implement Alternative 2 (the Proposed Action) based on public comment and findings of the Environmental Assessment. Alternative 2 is adoption of the Plan, which sets comprehensive and adaptive management direction for overnight use for the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness located on the White River and Gunnison National Forests. 

“The decision is based on the years of monitoring data, public input, extensive inventories and the environmental analysis findings that demonstrated the need for action to protect the natural resources from increasing degradation resulting from overnight use,” stated Karen Schroyer, Aspen-Sopris District Ranger.

The Plan will be implemented in phases as technical processes, physical and financial capacities allow. In Phase 1, the Forest will implement a reservation system as soon as possible for a limited entry overnight permit starting with the Conundrum Hot Springs and the Conundrum Creek zones. This reservation system is expected to be in place by the summer season of 2018 pending objections and depending on technical feasibility and resources. 

Conundrum Hot Springs and the Conundrum Creek travel corridor is a place where the Forest has documented years of resource damage and impact. The popularity of the high-elevation, hot spring- hike has led to overcrowding and has caused impacts related to camping such as unburied human waste, campsite hardening, erosion, tree cutting, illegal campfires and dog waste. Last year, 136 pounds of trash was packed out of Conundrum Hot Springs by Wilderness Rangers.

“Although much of the implementation details are yet to be worked out, we are exploring options through the reservation site, a tool to create an online reservation system for the area,” stated Schroyer.

Any reservation system used to allocate overnight camping capacity per zone would likely include a fee for the reservation transaction. The approximate price for a reservation for one person through the system is currently $10. Fees are per reservation, not per night. Groups of up to 10 can be under a single reservation.

“While the announcement of this draft Decision is an exciting milestone for addressing impacts in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, we will be looking for ways in the future to ensure we have the resources to implement the Plan long-term,” stated Schroyer.

The White River National Forest will be looking into options for providing additional resources that could include a permit fee under the Federal Land Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA), since implementation of the Plan will require additional resources for restoration and enhanced services on the ground that are currently not being provided. A separate public process is required for new or increased FLREA fees.

Phase 2 of the planned implementation will be for the Four Pass Loop, which will include Crater Lake, Maroon Lake, Snowmass Lake, North Fork, East Fork and Upper Snowmass zones. Implementation for the Four Pass Loop reservation system is expected to occur sometime after the Conundrum Hot Springs and Conundrum Creek zone implementation. The Four Pass Loop is recognized worldwide as a premier 28- mile backpacking loop. Over the years, the Four Pass Loop has seen resource impacts due to increased levels of overnight camping such as human waste issues, campsite proliferation, vegetation damage, soil erosion and loss of vegetation due to illegal campfires. During the 2016 summer season, Wilderness Rangers encountered 273 incidences of unburied human waste in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

Phase 3 will focus on implementation for the Capital Lake and Lower Capital zones after successful implementation of Phases 1 and 2.

Objections Process

The release of this draft decision initiates the 45-day objections period. Individuals who submitted timely and specific written comments during the scoping period (initiated Nov. 3, 2016) and/or the comment period (initiated March 29, 2017) will have eligibility to file an objection to the draft DN under 36 CFR 218.

Project documents are available for download on the White River National Forest website at Hardcopies may be reviewed at the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, in Carbondale, Colorado.

Objections, including attachments, must be filed via mail, fax, email, hand-delivery, express delivery or messenger service (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., excluding holidays) to: Reviewing Officer, Brian Ferebee, Regional Forester, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region, 1617 Cole Blvd, Lakewood, CO 80401; FAX: (303) 275-5134, or email

Objections must be submitted within 45 calendar days following the publication of a legal notice in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. The legal notice is anticipated to be published June 29, 2017. The publication date in the newspaper of record is the exclusive means for calculating the time to file an objection. Those wishing to object should not rely upon dates or timeframe information provided by any other source. The regulations prohibit extending the time to file an objection.