Visitors to Conundrum Hot Springs near Aspen have been doing their business in plastic bags to preserve the land for a year now.
The Forest Service instituted a paid permit system and a human waste awareness campaign at Conundrum last summer. Since then, park rangers have noticed a drastic drop in the amount of waste, and even litter.
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Poop has been a major problem for high-traffic natural attractions in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. On top of being “gross,” human waste can contaminate water sources. Ranger Katy Nelson said it’s park rangers who have to contend with waste incidents.
“People don't hike that far into the wilderness to come across someone’s poop,” Nelson said.
To that end, she talks with hikers about responsible waste disposal and provides free portable toilets called “wag bags.”
The paid permit system doesn't decrease the overall number who visit Conundrum, Nelson said. Instead, it evenly distributes visitors throughout the season, resulting in fewer bear-human interactions, illegal fire rings and littering and human waste incidents.
"With this permit system, people are able to, in advance, get some really good 'leave no trace' information about how to deal with their poop, how to store their food so that it's not accessible to bears and get some really good information about how to be good stewards," Nelson said.
Similar plans are in discussion for other popular areas like the Four Pass Loop and Capitol Lake, according to Nelson.
“The Conundrum permit is part of a comprehensive overnight visitor use management plan,” Nelson said. “It is part of a big effort to grapple with the stewardship challenges in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness as a result of the incredible popularity of the area.