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The Friends of Fourmile chapter of GARNA strongly supports passage of Issue 1A, protecting forests, waters and working lands. One of its key elements addresses how best to manage growth of recreation and its impacts while maintaining environmental health of our public and private lands. This is the core of what Friends of Fourmile have supported for the past 18 years.

Here’s the bottom line: In the less than a decade since 2009 the number of camping units in Fourmile has doubled – it may well have tripled since 2000. The number of dispersed camping sites has also doubled (since 2004). Factors behind this remarkable growth include “discovery” by more and more visitors from the Front Range, changes in attractiveness of closer-in areas due to wildfire impacts, users seeking a less-crowded experience, rapid expansion of motorized vehicle use in large vehicles and groups, increased popularity of side-by-side ATVs, more use by local residents, upsurges in mountainbiking stimulated by trail building. More and more organized town events attract participants camping on public lands, and long-staying “homeless” users are on the rise. The much-to-be-commended recovery of the Arkansas River to Gold Medal quality brings with it additional pressures on public lands.

Ballot Issue 1A would provide much needed support for stewardship of the recreational assets that people live here and visit here to enjoy – increased protection from devastating fire, assurance of clean water and more active management of our trails, rivers and campsites. People ask, what sort of recreation programs could be supported? Here are examples. During the fire ban this year, over 70 illegal fires were reported – the measure could support additional seasonal patrolling to help protect our community from fire as well as detecting destructive behavior like riding off-trail or cutting live trees. Expanding campsites are generating sediments that can harm our water supplies and our Gold Medal trout waters. This could be addressed with projects to limit campsite expansion (like fencing or boulder barriers), provision of restrooms or portapotties, and revegetating disturbed areas that harm wetlands and streams. Volunteer groups could receive support they critically need to help protect our waters, wildlife and the recreational experiences we enjoy.

Here’s background: Since 2003 Friends of Fourmile has assisted the U.S. Forest Service and BLM to manage recreation on the 100,000 acre Fourmile Area. We’ve used our 16,000 volunteer hours to create maps, educate visitors, monitor activities, build trails, fence and revegetate disturbed areas and be citizen land stewards as recreational use steadily increased. We’ve gained understanding of what people do, where they camp, the legal – and illegal – roads they use and create, the soils and vegetation they impact, the trash and human waste they leave behind. On the positive side we’ve observed – and fully appreciate – how much pleasure, adventure and rejuvenation a Fourmile camping trip, ride, hike or bike brings to visitors and residents alike. Expanding this understanding to the balance of Chaffee’s public lands is something 1A could facilitate.

In our long association with agency professionals, we’ve come to admire their dedication but also realize their staffing and financial resources have remained static or declined despite obvious expansion in all their responsibilities, including recreation but also wildlife, fire management and cultural resource protection. We cannot maintain the quality of all these valued elements without additional funding.

We collect data for Fourmile through annual Memorial Day surveys and hundreds of hours of patrolling, which reveal our bottom-line conclusions. But we also know similar trends in growing impacts extend to our county’s other natural assets. An estimated 110,000 people a year climb local 14ers, a number that is growing every year. Use on the Continental Divide and Colorado Trails, dispersed camping in the Clear, Lake, Cottonwood and South Arkansas drainages and local Wilderness Areas, and in the Browns Canyon National Monument – all are increasing. These are the things that make Chaffee County so special, and we need to invest to take care of them.

From this perspective, Friends of Fourmile believes it’s time we as a community recognize that increasing recreational use, despite its obvious and essential contributions to economic growth, has the potential for degrading the very environmental values which attract our visitors and we ourselves enjoy.

Balancing recreational impact with sustainable growth is just one of the three objectives of Ballot Issue 1A. Addressing all three in parallel is essential in a successful approach to protecting our county’s environmental health so that smart, sustainable growth is assured.

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We urge fellow citizens to support Issue 1A.

Alan Robinson
Friends of Fourmile/GARNA

Alan Robinson is a former board chair of GARNA and a founding member of the Friends of Fourmile; he’s a long-time proponent of GARNA’s Salida to Leadville Stage and Rail Trail project. He also has served on the Chaffee County Heritage Advisory Board and helped establish the Collegiate Peaks Scenic and Historic Byway.