Spur trails making loops back to the main trail, or what we call social trails are forming at our favorite trails around Boulder.
We’re all suffering symptoms of “quarantine fatigue.”
Couple that with balmy weather, and people start to hit the trails. In droves.
But how do you get out and hike a local trail in the county park or Indian Peaks Wilderness and practice social distancing?
It’s not easy.
As a former Park Ranger and current volunteer patroller with the Forest Service, I’m all about Leave No Trace. I’m the first one to remind people during spring time to “Get Muddy.”
Stay on the trail no matter what.
But what happens to trail etiquette in the era of a pandemic? How do you maintain 6-10 feet on a trail that’s maybe 10 inches wide?
What happens when someone else is coming the other way?
Even in our neighborhood right now, I’m wary of coming too close to my neighbors on the evening walk. If I see someone coming the other way, I dive into the woods, dragging the dogs with me.
On a limited basis, that’s not such a big deal. After all, we only have 90 properties total in my neighborhood. So what if we occasionally bush whack through the woods.
But if you take thousands of people visiting Hessie Trailhead and people are constantly detouring through the woods to avoid each other, social trails form. Instead of one single-track trail through the woods, you end up with several.
Or the trail gets ever wider as people try to distance themselves from others as they pass each other. What started out as a narrow little trail becomes more like a jeep road. These are the consequences of a population of people desperate to get outside and enjoy nature.
Fragile woodland plants get trampled, wildflowers like the lovely Pasque Flower that’s blooming right now end up squashed. Willows get their branches snapped.
Suddenly elk and deer have less food to browse on. Right at the time when females are pregnant with this year’s calves and need extra food.
I can only imagine what shape the trails will be in at Brainard Lake Recreation Area come Fourth of July.
Our natural environment suffers.
What’s the solution?
We all know this pandemic isn’t going anyway anytime soon. Despite the governor’s pleas for people to stay close to home, it seems it falls on deaf ears. People love getting ever higher in the peaks that make Colorado so appealing for both locals and tourists.
National parks have grappled with issues of over crowding for years. Their answer? Quotas.
When I lived in the Sierra in my twenties, you could just drive to Yosemite and climb the iconic Half Dome whenever you wanted.
Today, you must register for a lottery system, hoping you get lucky enough to win a spot for the day.
Zion National Park requires visitors to park outside Zion Canyon and take a shuttle bus in.
Even here in Colorado, the Forest Service moved to a permit system to hike up to lovely Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon.
Is this what the summer of Covid-19 is heading towards?
It might be the only way to save the wilderness around us.