Wilderness Wanderings: How can we better love our wilderness? | SteamboatToday.com
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Wilderness Wanderings: How can we better love our wilderness?

The area around this Devil’s Causeway trail sign has been worn down eight or more inches below the original surface.
Courtesy photo

Know before you go

• It’s hunting season, so wear bright orange or red colors. Reflective, orange vests are lightweight and easily season by hunters.

• Weather is more unpredictable in the fall, so be prepared by carrying an extra layer, hat and gloves, even if you think you will not need them.

• Carry a map and compass whenever you enter the backcountry. Trail junctions in wilderness areas do not always have signs, or signs may been damaged by wildlife or extreme weather conditions.

A Steamboat local’s yearly list of hiking destinations might include Upper Fish Creek Falls, Rabbit Ears, Zirkel circle and Devil’s Causeway. As a result, and with the additional hiking of visitors to our region, all are heavily used trails. One might even say we love them to death.

The area around this Devil’s Causeway trail sign has been worn down eight or more inches below the original surface.Courtesy photo

Know before you go

• It’s hunting season, so wear bright orange or red colors. Reflective, orange vests are lightweight and easily season by hunters.

• Weather is more unpredictable in the fall, so be prepared by carrying an extra layer, hat and gloves, even if you think you will not need them.



• Carry a map and compass whenever you enter the backcountry. Trail junctions in wilderness areas do not always have signs, or signs may been damaged by wildlife or extreme weather conditions.

Of particular concern is the heavy impact of the Zirkel circle and Causeway trails, as both are located in designated wilderness areas — Mt. Zirkel and Flat Tops, respectively. Review, for a minute, several key points of the Wilderness Act, which, when signed into law by Congress in 1964, defined the qualities of wilderness:



• “A wilderness … is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain,”

• “ … generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable,”

• “has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation,

• “ … an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvement or human habitation …”

Does that remind you of your most recent visit to the Devil’s Causeway? Probably not. What can we do, then, to return highly popular areas to some semblance of the qualities we expect to find when we enter wilderness?

One easy way to lessen our impact is for each of us to reduce our use of these and other popular trails and seek out other areas to hike. It’s always fun to discover and explore new places, and we have a multitude of alternatives here in Northwest Colorado. Think of the first time you hiked out toward the Causeway or set eyes upon Gilpin Lake. Open any good hiking book, and you’ll find dozens of new destinations from which to choose.

What else can we do to reduce our impact? No matter where we hike, let’s resolve to be more mindful of where we step, especially along the trail near fragile, sub-alpine environments. At 11,000 feet in elevation, such as in the Flat Tops, growing seasons are extremely short. Tender plants residing next to a trail may never recover from a single footstep, much less a hundred. Compacted soil and erosion also result, making it impossible for future plants to take root and grow.

Hike single file. If you encounter a puddle or muddy section, walk through the middle of it rather than stepping off the trail to go around it. If you’re concerned about your feet getting wet, be prepared by wearing waterproof boots or hiking shoes.

Short-cutting trail switchbacks is one of the worst impacts on the environment. Erosion and scarring are the inevitable result. Do the right thing, even when no one is looking, and stay on the trail.

How about the area we choose when we stop for lunch? Can we sit on large boulders rather than scuffing up the soil as we sit and move our feet around?

Think about the possible impact when we stop for a photograph. Are we stepping on fragile plants to create that perfect picture, or do we keep everyone in the trail?

Litter is also a sign of our visits. Almost no one would not intentionally leave their garbage behind. Let’s prevent accidental littering by making sure pockets on our packs are zipped up.

Let’s resolve as we enjoy these final few weeks of hiking to love our favorite areas, not to their death, but so they will be healthy, thriving examples of wilderness environments.

Bob Korch is a vice president and trail volunteer with Friends of Wilderness, which assists the U.S. Forest Service in maintaining trails and educating the public in the Mt. Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and Flat Tops wilderness areas. friendsofwilderness.com.


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