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Aaron Johnson

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by Aaron Johnson » Fri Jun 30, 2017 6:18 am

Well, it was inevitable and now it's here. The infamous fee system that I have combated through recent years has come to one of Colorado's finest premiere wilderness areas. I suppose this is really the only option in protecting these heavily used areas, and going forward, climbers will be subjected to the same racket the BLM runs at The Wave in Arizona http://www.summitpost.org/the-best-things-in-life-are-free/707471. But unlike the Mount Evans fee debacle, which was a scam of the highest order, the White River National Forest has been conducting studies on the heavily used areas within the MBSW borders, particularly areas impacted by the standard routes to the 14ers. The remote location of these popular mountains prohibits monitoring on a routine basis, yet the accessibility is comparatively easy for most hikers, despite the challenges the mountains themselves present. The popularity of the 14ers will always be a problem, and as in the past, I still support the position that it's reasonable these mountains must be sacrificed for the greater good of Colorado's lesser (but better) mountains and the pristine wilderness they occupy. I'm thankful though that Ellen and I climbed these mountains when we did, without concern about being robbed by the Forest Service with a fee that had questionable motives or purpose. I can only hope the fees collected in this wilderness going forward will indeed serve the interests that have been specified. The Forest Service is notorious for rerouting money, especially when a commercial interest gets involved. Today's climbers will be clueless and simply pay the fee as a necessary part of their quest to climb all of Colorado's 14ers.

Then there's the Conundrum Hot Springs. These remote hot springs have always been popular, but in recent years, heavy use and abuse by low-lifes have destroyed the resource. Part of the fee proceeds should go toward routine patrolling, to catch and fine those who are caught trashing the hot spring. Previous clean-up efforts have resulted in nasty reports concerning the litter that was picked up. Everything from trash and syringes to blow-up dolls and rubbers have been cleaned out of the pool and the surrounding campsites. People are pigs in the mountains as well as their homes. There's no getting around it.

Of course some will wisely choose to avoid the fee and use alternate routes to climb the 14ers or access remote corners of the wilderness. Therein lies the problem with a fee system in the wilderness. Much of the traffic is simply diverted and the damage spreads to newer areas, although at a slower rate. I look for Mount of the Holy Cross and the Holy Cross Wilderness (HCW) to be the next target of the fee system. Use on the standard route for that mountain has skyrocketed, despite it being one of the longest and most challenging routes among the 14ers. I've done that route eight times, and I noticed an increase in people and the impacts they cause with each visit. People are forever getting lost and rescued on the mountain as well, which causes further impact on the area when hordes of rescuers are brought in to deliver a rookie from their own folly. It's the nature of the beast, and so it goes with Colorado's ever-popular 14ers.

ImageThe pressure on wilderness areas in general has increased as their popularity grows. Special interests don't see a natural resource, they see a commodity. Something with which they can make money. They get cozy and crawl into bed with scheming politicians from the left and the right. The politicians gets a cut of the action in exchange for arranging a fee system to be administered by their business benefactor, and next thing you know, every wilderness area is managed like a park, with an entry fee that supposedly pays for specified amenities that more often than not are nowhere to be found at the access point as required by the FLREA. The scams will continue and the public will remain clueless, blindly paying the fees.

In a situation like the MBSW or the HCW, it has become a necessary evil, but it's still evil. I'm thankful to have been born at the right time, to have enjoyed these wonderful places before they were destroyed by the masses and the fee system had to be initiated. It's a different time and a new age going forward. Californians have dealt with it for years, so it was only a matter of time before it came to Colorado (not surprising since so many Californians are bailing out of that state and for good reason-but that's another issue entirely). Fortunately I'm done with the 14ers, and I'm done with the fee fight. I did my time in the ring. We fought the good fight and we even won, but ten years of that was enough. I retired from work in 2014, I retired from my SP administration duties in 2009, and I retired from the front lines of the fee battle in 2013. Put succinctly, I'm retired. Younger bucks will have to take up the torch. The battle against Big Brother can indeed be won, but the battles must be chosen carefully. In the case of the MBSW or the HCW, it's a lost cause and not worth fighting. A heavily used and abused wilderness is lost, either to the fee system or to the scum that would destroy it, but it's gone, its magic tainted by time's passing and greed. That is the sad reality today's hikers, climbers and campers must face.

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by chicagotransplant » Tue Aug 22, 2017 5:27 pm


Thanks for posting. Good to hear from you again, and I hope the mountains are treating you well! Its sad that its come to this, but having been up the Conundrum trail in recent years for Hunter/Keefe/Hilliard, I can say that place is in pretty bad shape and not much of a wilderness experience during the summer anymore. You might find the below study interesting, click on the PDF entitled Overnight Visitor Use Management Plan, the maps are pretty telling of just how many illegal campsites there are in the MBSM. I hope the fees will be used to restore them and clean this place up at least:


This article has some background on the study as well, I volunteer with FENW (Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness) in the Eagles Nest as Holy Cross Wilderness areas. I encourage others who care about these areas and keeping them free to volunteer as well. Perhaps with more boots on the ground to educate users on their impacts we can avoid more fees in the future:


Happy trails!

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