Routt National Forest to expand Dry Lake Campground, improve parking
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The number of campsites in the Dry Lake Campground on Buffalo Pass is set to triple.
Routt National Forest plans to expand and improve Dry Lake Campground and enhance traffic flow in the Dry Lake Parking Lot in the next two years.
As Buffalo Pass becomes a more popular recreation destination year-round, the U.S. Forest Service hopes more developed campsites will protect natural resources impacted by the concentration of people using dispersed campsites.
Designs are currently being finalized for the project. Construction could start as early as late summer 2019, after the U.S. Forest Service requests and awards bids for contractors to complete the project. It’s more likely construction will begin in summer 2020, said Routt National Forest Recreation Specialist Kent Foster.
The project has already undergone National Environmental Policy Act review and approval. It is fully funded by the Forest Service through the agency’s regional capital improvement budget.
Dry Lake Campground
Dry Lake Campground will be expanded from eight campsites to about 27 sites.
Two of these sites will be double-size to accommodate larger groups, and at least one of the sites will be accessible for people with disabilities. One site will be designated for the camp host, who currently takes up one of the campground’s eight sites.
Bear-proof food bins will be installed to try to prevent bears from getting to human food and becoming habituated to people.
The campground is set to receive about three vault toilets. Each site will have access to a bear-proof food bin, a picnic table, tent pad and fire ring.
The total area of the campground footprint will be fewer than 10 acres.
The few campsites at Dry Lake Campground are frequently full, Foster said, and this could contribute to increased use of dispersed campsites on Buffalo Pass. The goal of expanding the campground is to encourage more people to camp in the developed campground, reducing the impact that an increasing number of dispersed campsites on Buffalo Pass has on vegetation, water and wildlife.
In the past two years, Foster estimated the number of dispersed campsites on Buffalo Pass has grown by 50 percent. Many of these are poorly placed on wet or steep spots, or camps are established in the few areas in Routt National Forest where dispersed camping is not allowed — near open water, trailheads and existing campgrounds.
On hillsides, these campsites beat down the vegetation, Foster said. As rain and snow fall, erosion problems can develop. Even in more suitable, flatter spots, the increased visitation on Buffalo Pass means vegetation does not have adequate time to recover after being trampled by campers, he added.
“What we’re seeing up on Buffalo Pass is these sites are just being used over and over and over and over, and the vegetation just can’t recover,” he said. “Then, we end up with bare ground.”
The bare ground becomes compacted soil, where soil particles are so densely packed together that plants cannot establish root systems in it. With no roots to hold the soil in place, erosion can become a problem.
“It’s just not a good situation,” Foster said.
Many using dispersed sites are not properly disposing of waste, Foster said. Campers should pack out waste or follow Leave No Trace guidelines in dispersed campsites to obey National Forest rules. These guidelines say waste should be buried in 6 to 8 inch deep catholes, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Instead, “toilet paper blooms,” as Foster calls them, are appearing more frequently on the Pass.
“We’ve got sanitation issues with people not disposing of their waste effectively or correctly,” Foster said. “We’ve got garbage problems. We’re kind of loving it to death up there.”
Dry Lake Parking Lot
The parking lot will be reconfigured to a one way, pull-through design with separate points for entry and exit. It will also receive a vault toilet.
What is currently roadside parallel parking nearby on the north side of Buffalo Pass Road will be turned into diagonal parking.
The improvements do not change the capacity of the lot, but Foster hopes it will allow an easier process to get in and out of the lot. The pull-through parking is also intended to prevent vehicles from being blocked in.
“In winter time, we get a lot of snowmobile trailers; so you’ve got trailers coming and going. You’ve got two-way traffic,” Foster said. “That’s pretty cumbersome to move those around.”
After receiving public comment voicing concern that building more parking would encourage more winter use at Dry Lake, the Forest Service decided not to expand the lot, Foster said. Though the improvements would easily allow for an expansion later, after more study.
Future of Buffalo Pass
“The campground is one step, but we have more management to do up there in the future,” Foster said.
As Buffalo Pass becomes an increasingly popular destination for summer and winter users — including hikers, mountain bikers, backcountry skiers and snowmobilers — the Forest Service will likely make some changes to reduce the impact that traffic has on the natural resources.
Some options, which are still only ideas, include changes to dispersed camping on the pass. The Forest Service might work to guide people to better places to camp or outright prohibit camping in certain areas, Foster said.
To address the problems of garbage and “toilet paper blooms,” the Forest Service might require visitors to pack in and pack out all waste, Foster added.
The Forest Service is working to obtain a baseline number of how many people are using Buff Pass trails through its trail counts, but Foster said the agency needs more data to understand just how much of an increase in use the area has seen.
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