The Kampgrounds of America (KOA) recently released a report showing that in 2020, 10.1 million households camped for the very first time. The Bureau of Economic Analysis also recently released a study demonstrating that $12.2 billion of Colorado’s economic impact came from outdoor recreation in 2020. With this uptick in use of public lands in recent years, areas like Gunnison County and all over Colorado are being heavily impacted. In response, the National Forest Foundation (NFF) and Gunnison County created the Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation (STOR) Corps. The Corps was created in 2020 to establish local stewardship jobs and to address impacts to public lands caused by the increased use.
One of the primary focuses for the STOR Corps this season was conducting the messaging and public outreach surrounding the shift from dispersed to designated camping happening in the Gunnison Valley
With the steady increase in camping tourism, especially in response to the pandemic, the U.S. Forest Service, in partnership with local stakeholders, decided to transition drainages around Crested Butte to designated site camping. These sites are traditionally very popular and therefore have been overused, especially with the boom of pandemic campers. The switch to designated camping will facilitate a better user experience and help prevent impacts to the natural landscape, like erosion and compaction and litter. The STOR Corps, along with the Forest Service and Crested Butte Conservation Corps, was tasked this summer with monitoring this transition. The STOR Corps roved from campsite-to-campsite monitoring occupancy and surveying campers. The main goals of the survey were to understand camper’s recreation habits, get a better understanding of public perception around this issue, and to educate users about why these changes were happening. Although there were many varied reactions, concerns, and comments, it was largely a positive experience with everyone from seasoned locals to new campers understanding and supporting the switch.
Along with the outreach, the STOR Corps has remained busy with field stewardship projects aimed at promoting resiliency in the Gunnison Valley. Projects included construction of a fishing access trail along the Gunnison River, fence building on Guanella Pass, and planting Engelmann Spruce on Crested Butte Mountain Resort. Additionally, the STOR Corps has helped facilitate volunteer workdays for organizations like High Country Conservation Advocates and Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association. The STOR Corps worked with Gunnison Trails several times throughout the season, including one project building checks steps and water bars on a trail in the West Elk Wilderness. The STOR Corps also did important, but sometimes forgotten, work like campground and gun range clean-up at the popular Hartman Rocks for the Bureau of Land Management. On the weekends, when recreation areas were the busiest, the STOR Corps conducted educational outreach at popular local trailheads in Gunnison and Crested Butte. This outreach consisted of promoting responsible trail usage and Leave No Trace principles to recreators.
While initially the STOR corps was created with urgency to be a temporary solution to a daunting problem, the public response to the program has been highly encouraging. Stewardship partners are looking at expanding this program for other high use areas in Colorado. With the continued success of this program, one can only hope that the STOR-y doesn’t end here….