Local agencies providing more proactive education about recreating responsibly (with video)
Staff at the Steamboat Springs Chamber and other local agencies are acutely aware of what heavy visitation numbers can lead to in other parts of Colorado during peak tourist seasons, such as required reservations for Rocky Mountain National Park and trails like Hanging Lake and Maroon Bells.
Local promoters, educators and managers of recreation tourism are working proactively so those types of crowd-control measures hopefully will not be needed in Routt County.
Members of the collaborative Routt Recreation Roundtable provide recommendations to help with the balancing act of conservation and recreation. The roundtable’s destination management subgroup discusses increasingly popular multi-use recreation sites, such as Dry Lake on Buffalo Pass Road, Rabbit Ears Pass, Fish Creek Falls, Yampa River Core Trail and the Blackmer and Slavonia trailheads.
“We don’t want to get to that critical point where we have to start things such as forced shuttles and reservations. If we have more time to plan, we don’t get to those critical points,” said Laura Soard, chamber marketing director and a roundtable volunteer.
Education efforts are becoming increasingly proactive before very popular areas are “loved to death.” The increase in outdoor recreation and first-time recreators during the COVID-19 pandemic elevated the urgency of destination management efforts, but the pandemic also gave mountain town promoters the permission to be direct in tourism communications, Soard said.
“COVID really did give destinations the permission to be more forthright in our communications with visitors,” Soard said. “These times with COVID and new recreation users, it’s critical that we are direct in expectations when people come to town.”
That is one of the reasons why chamber officials launched this past winter the Visit Responsibly section on the chamber website and has updated it for summer. Soard said the website has received a lot of positive feedback from visitors and locals. The destination management and recreate responsibly education efforts are another reason the chamber currently focuses on attracting warm weather visitors in late May, June, late September and early October, with no promotion for July and August visitors, Soard said.
Visit Responsibly educates visitors to “help protect our natural assets and have an unforgettable visit” by learning about the topics: Know before you go, Respect the Yampa Valley, Ditch the car, Stay healthy, Leave no trace, Give wildlife space, Be wildfire aware, Give back and Be kind.
Soard said Visit Responsibly is promoted through everything from weekly emails to local lodging managers and concierges to geo-targeted digital display ads that pop up on devices when people are in Steamboat. The chamber also launched in spring a new trip planner app that includes Visit Responsibly information. This coming ski season, information cards with the link to the chamber’s Know Before You Go winter webpage will be available at local equipment rental businesses.
Yampatika Executive Director Joe Haines said the nonprofit has always educated about such topics as leave no trace and personal responsibility when recreating in nature, but he said the staff educators are “more deliberate now.”
Yampatika’s Director of Adult Programs Lexi Stine, who previously worked 10 seasons for the U.S. Forest Service, is a master educator for Leave No Trace principles. Stine believes now is a “golden age” for outdoor ethics educators because so many new recreators who enjoyed time outdoors during the pandemic are looking for information to feel as comfortable in the outdoors as long-time users.
“More people than ever went outdoors and found that being outside brings so many benefits to stress release and exercise,” Stine said. “People who had great intentions weren’t sure how to be outdoors responsibly. They want to be outside; they want to be better about it. It makes the job a lot easier for us as educators when people are looking for our information.”
More outdoor visitors have increased issues such as campsite trash, illegal campfires during fire restrictions, trailhead parking jams, not disposing of human waste properly, not storing food properly at campsites, illegal campsites too close to water ways or trails, and conflicts on multi-use trails between different types of users.
Brendan Kelly, local recreation manager with the U.S. Forest Service, said, for example, a busy weekend at the Slavonia Trailhead can see up to 100 vehicles, or drivers trying to enter the Fish Creek Falls parking lot on busy weekends between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. can be turned around due to capacity.
“We are trying to manage for multiple types of opportunities, so we want each of the types of visitors to have a good experience when they visit public lands,” Kelly said. “The more we can set people up for success before they can get to the trail, that’s the goal.”
In addition to the Forest Service, the Chamber and Yampatika, some of the other educators that have become more proactive or have dedicated more volunteer manpower toward recreate responsibly outreach include Friends of Wilderness, Friends of the Yampa and Routt County Riders.
Friends of the Yampa introduced in May two new education videos, “Tube it Like a Pro in 10 Easy Steps” and “Yampa River Floater Etiquette,” to promote proper use of and respect for the river and the community.
Routt County Riders increased its number of trail ambassador volunteers to 45, expanded the location of ambassadors beyond the Steamboat city limits and started tracking trail use numbers and situations more thoroughly.
Steamboat’s Parks & Recreation Department introduced a new Ollie the Otter river-wise campaign in late spring including new metal signs along the Yampa River.
Routt County Riders Executive Director Laraine Martin noted new recreators are not necessarily causing all of the trail issues. She said seasoned trail users sometimes exhibit a sense of entitlement that translates into poor trail etiquette.
Another way that educators, residents and visitors can help in overall efforts to reduce multi-trail user conflicts and crowding is to encourage diversification of trail use times and choices, including trying lesser used or farther away trails. Martin said residents can no longer show up at local favorite trailheads at 10 a.m. Saturdays and expect to have the same recreation experience as in past years.
Friends of Wilderness, with help from the Forest Service and grant support from the Moniker Foundation, also launched in early summer a Wilderness Protection Promises Project that features cartoon animal ambassadors to help teach about exploring responsibly in local wilderness areas. The messages can be found around town on colorful posters and rack cards.
Educators say the current combined efforts of organizations stepping up with direct, proactive recreate responsibly messages is both amazing and exciting.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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With abnormally low snow levels, most of the snow skiers and snowboarders will encounter Saturday during Steamboat Resort’s Opening Day will be manufactured.