The county’s Recreation in Balance (RiB) leadership team gathered at the United States Forest Service (USFS) office in Salida April 2, to discuss the RiB program, a component of the Common Ground program funded by voters last November when ballot issue 1A passed. Cindy Williams, board president of the Central Colorado Conservancy (CCC), facilitated the meeting, which focused on the creation and rollout of the RIMS smartphone application and assessment criteria.

Photo courtesy of Scott Peterson

The RiB Leadership Team consists of 14 individuals from 13 unique agencies and local businesses. Each of these individuals brings a unique perspective to the RiB program, and their shared passions form the foundation of a common goal: protecting recreation in Chaffee County.

The leadership team members are: Ben Lara (USFS); Dominique Naccarato (Greater Arkansas River Nature Association); Nicole Blazer (Southwest Conservation Corps); Mike Sugaski (Salida Man Trails volunteer); Jim Aragon, Jamin Grigg (Colorado Parks and Wildlife); Julie Mach (Colorado Mountain Club); Kalem Leonard (Bureau of Land Management); Chuck Cichowitz (Noah’s Ark Outfitter); Bill Canterbury (Colorado Outfitter’s Association); Rob White (Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area); and Cindy Williams (Envision Chaffee County, Central Colorado Conservancy).

The team began with a discussion of the Recreation Impact Monitoring System (RIMS). RIMS will be used to assess the use of trails and campgrounds. Trail and campground assessments will identify areas of concern including a number of fire-rings, heavily used dispersed camping sites, off-road vehicle use, downed trees, trail conditions, human waste, trash and sedimentation.

The idea for the RIMS smartphone application was introduced to the public during the Feb. 6 meeting at Poncha Springs Town Hall. Mach is creating the actual RIMS application.

“It’s a handheld cellphone application that anybody can use,” explained Williams. “All sorts of folks can go out and collect information about campsites and trails in a quantifiable way. The idea is that this will be live this summer, and we will go out with the community after a bit of training.”

In the future, Mach intends for the RIMS application to be readily accessible for volunteers with minimal training. Though for now, the idea is to gather only the highest quality data by using volunteers already familiar with assessment criteria.

“In 2019, deployment of the RIMS app will focus on volunteers who are either associated with an outdoor stewardship group like Salida Mountain Trails, the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association or an Adopt-A-Trail volunteer with the Forest Service or BLM,” Mach wrote in an email to AVV.

Mach and Lara, who is assisting with creating the measuring criteria, also updated the leadership team on the current monitoring fields. These are the ‘areas of measurement’ RiB will use to quantify the level of use for a given area. During the meeting, much of the discussion surrounded what these fields should be, and how they should be measured.

For example, the current Trail-assessment fields are divided into five sub-categories: Trail Tread, Trail Corridor, Trail Structure, Signage and Human Impacts.

Photo courtesy of the Recreation in Balance Leadership team.

Each of these sub-categories then contains multiple fields of measurement. Trail Tread, for instance, asks volunteers to assess the Tread Condition, Tread Issues, Tread Surface Type, and to record any additional comments.

Much of the debate amongst the leadership team was how to simplify the process of using RIMS without compromising the quality of the collected data. For the wilderness and recreation professionals like Mach, Lara, and the rest of the leadership team, many of the terms and subjective assessments are much more familiar. However, for the run-of-the-mill hiker, camper, fisherman or biker, making these assessments may not be so simple.

“We are trying to be more objective with these metrics,” Mach told the leadership team. “The process of collecting the data should be pretty quick, but [volunteers] have the option to get more granular with those details.”

Ultimately, the leadership team does not want to put too much responsibility on the shoulders of volunteers. To ease the burden, Mach pointed out that every assessment will require a photograph of the trail or campsite. This allows professionals like Mach and Lara to review the data and have some control over the final presentation of the data.

Canterbury raised the question of the impacts increased recreation use is having on ranching and grazing allotments. This especially related to public land.

“[This is] the biggest issue with ranchers,” Canterbury said, “they move their cattle to their allotment and a week later [the cattle] are clearing another parcel they aren’t supposed to be in because there are gates left open.”

A few leadership team members pointed out the benefit of ‘season of use’ signage at gate locations. This would inform recreational users of periods throughout the year where a gate in question should be open or closed.

“We need to figure out some way to educate the people going out there,” said Canterbury.

Second, the leadership team heard an update on the development of a ‘Recreation Atlas.’ This atlas would combine data from every agency with applicable data sets in Chaffee County. The Atlas would be a valuable resource for RiB moving forward as it allows for the comparison of the RIMS data with data from other agencies.

Buffy Lenth, of the CCC Watershed Restoration Specialist, demonstrated the Colorado Wetland Information Center’s (CWIC) comprehensive Watershed Planning Toolbox. This toolbox is the kind of mapping tool the Recreation Atlas would be.

According to the CWIC’s website, “The Watershed Planning Toolbox is a comprehensive resource for incorporating wetlands and streams into watershed planning, restoring wetlands to improve watershed health and identifying opportunities for wetland conservation.”

Compiling all recreation data into a single atlas while allowing users to display or hide data sets in the form of map-layers is critical to protecting recreation in Chaffee County.

“It’s a set of map layers that help us understand where key wildlife habitat is, where the railroads and trails are, and all of that [data]. Our thought is that by putting that data together we will get a good sense of impact and use in Chaffee County,” Williams said.

Finally, Williams gathered input from the leadership team on high-priority dispersed camping areas. The leadership team determined each site’s priority level based on the site’s level of use, and impact on wildlife and natural systems.

“These are dispersed-campsite areas,” said Williams. “We did a quick rate and rank of how intense the use is and how much impact we think it might be having.”

The team identified numerous locations that see heavy dispersed-camping use. These include Tunnel View, campsites at the base of Shavano, South Cottonwood Creek, Browns Creek, Browns Lake, Raspberry Gulch, North Cottonwood and various locations on Four-mile.

“We are going to do a similar [exercise] with the task-force,” said Williams. “It’s a little subjective, but we are trying to get a sense of where the top [locations] might be.”