A draft decision on whether to begin an overnight camping permit system in select areas of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness could come as soon as the middle of May, the U.S. Forest says. A final decision either way could come in July.
The draft decision will be based on public reaction to an environmental assessment now open to public comment. There will be forums April 5 at the Rocky Mountain Institute in Basalt and April 6 at the Gunnison Community Center in Gunnison. The Forest Service has posted more details here, including how to comment electronically or by mail.
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The question of whether to move to a permit system has grown out of concern that an increasing number of people who go to the wilderness area could end up degrading it at the same time.
If a camping permit system were to be approved, the soonest it might take effect would be 2018, and it would first be tried at Conundrum Hot Springs near Aspen, at the head of a valley one ridge over from Maroon Lake and the Maroon Bells mountains. The springs, at timberline and accessible via an all-day hike, are a popular destination, and both the springs and the parking area at the trailhead can become seriously overcrowded.
It's part of a trend. The Forest Service says overnight visits at the 10 most popular trails within the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness has increased 115 percent since 2007. Public meetings were held in 2016 on how best to cope with overcrowding in the wilderness area.
The new draft assessment grew out what Forest Service officials heard at those public meetings.
Editor's note: The story has been updated to clarify that a final decision on camping in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness has not been reached, and that Conundrum Hot Springs is not a designated Forest Service campground.