Wilderness Wanderings: Wildflowers, mushrooms and a boardwalk in the Flat Tops | SteamboatToday.com

Wilderness Wanderings: Wildflowers, mushrooms and a boardwalk in the Flat Tops


Bob Korch
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Emmett Stafford

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — With 2019 being the 100th anniversary of wilderness champion Arthur Carhart’s inspirational first visit to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area and Trappers Lake, perhaps it is most appropriate to reflect and, importantly, act on the values and characteristics that he championed in what, today, are our designated wilderness areas. 

According to the Wilderness Act, which was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1964:

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, 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. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation. …”

The preservation of our local wilderness in Northwest Colorado is the primary reason for our organization — Friends of Wilderness — and many others like us throughout the country. Thus, this was some of the rationale for last Saturday’s All Hands Day in the Flat Tops, a yearly event by our volunteers to provide tender, loving care for this incredibly scenic wilderness area. 

Many of our volunteers spent the day on trails near Stillwater Reservoir, educating hikers and campers, trimming back brush, rehabbing campsites and taking out garbage.

Another focus of the day was to dismantle a dilapidated boardwalk from Mandall Lakes Trail. 

Installed decades ago — likely before 1975 when the Flat Tops was given wilderness protection — the boardwalk provided trail users dry access through a marshy meadow. In recent years, the meadow has become somewhat drier thereby eliminating the need for the boardwalk. In addition, many of the wood planks had become rotted and broken with age. 

You might also ask, “What is a boardwalk doing in wilderness? Isn’t that a ‘permanent improvement’ and a sign of man’s presence?” 

Good questions. And we mean to comply.

Using crowbars, mallets and a Pulaski, the volunteers pulled apart the boards, scattering those that had become rotten. The solid boards were stacked nearby and will be hauled out by an equestrian group. The nails were collected and carried out.

Some of the rotted wood broke into small pieces and will serve as temporary mulch over the reclaimed trail section. 

We would be remiss if we did not share how much our volunteers enjoyed the day. The Flat Tops are abloom in one of its most magnificent displays of wildflowers in recent years.  

Go now and choose just about any trail that goes through meadows and you will be treated with eye candy. 

Look one way and you’ll see a large area of purple asters. And around the next bend in the trail a meadow full of yellow old-man-of-the-mountain awaits. Dozens of wildflower species are now blooming in the Flat Tops and elsewhere.

You’ll also find wild mushrooms are at peak, edible or not. I won’t tip off harvesters which mushrooms are where due to the risks of poisonous varieties. But I will pass along a tip from an expert mushroom aficionado: “please, only cut off the cap and let the stem remain, so it will continue to produce.”

The rest of the story

Arthur Carhart, in his role as recreation engineer for the U.S Forest Service, in 1919 was sent to Trappers Lake to survey the area for development. Two local companions raised an issue. “Do you have to circle every lake with a road?” they asked. “Can’t you bureaucrats keep just one superb mountain lake as God made it?”

Carhart realized these two men echoed his own feelings about his mission. Convinced that the plan to build a road and cabins should be abandoned, he returned to Denver with a new perspective on land management. And he successfully persuaded his superiors to leave Trappers Lake as it was.

Carhart later joined forces with other environmentalists to push the concept of preserving land for the enjoyment of current and future generations. And we have them to thank for the unspoiled beauty of the Flat Tops as well as the Mount Zirkel and Sarvis Creek wilderness areas.

Bob Korch is trail crew leader with Friends of Wilderness which assists the U.S. Forest Service in maintaining trails and educating the public about the Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and Flat Tops wilderness areas. For more information, visit friendsofwilderness.com.


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