What is wilderness?

When I think of wilderness, I think of rugged natural settings, primeval forests, wildlife and most of all serenity. Wilderness is an escape from civilization and the bustle of every day life.

I still remember the first time I climbed Pawnee Pass. It felt like the I was on top of the world, with peaks and lakes dotting the landscape every where I looked.

Or the time I stood by the road watching two bull moose munch on the tender shoots of willows.

The Wilderness Act as passed in 1964, establishing the National Wilderness Preservation System. Today, there are more than 800 wilderness areas in the United States and 40 in Colorado.

But the very tenets that make wilderness so appealing are now being threatened near my home in Nederland. The pandemic has led people to flock to the Indian Peaks Wilderness in record numbers. Just recently, the Denver Post reported that Brainard Lake is getting two to four times the normal visitors during the summer of 2020.

Rocky Mountain National Park made plans for how to handle visitation this summer, by requiring timed entry to the park. The number of spots available were set at 60% of its normal visitation. Having visited the park earlier this summer, I applaud their foresight.

What a pleasure it was to be able to park at Deer Lake Junction. To walk the Ute Trail without a crush of people. For the first time in years, I actually enjoyed a sense of wilderness that had been missing.

But the inability of people to go to Rocky has just pushed the visitation farther south, resulting in crowded trail and overflowing parking in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

The Forest Service attempted to limit the parking at Brainard Lake by reducing available parking at the upper parking lots by 20%. But they didn’t realize that would just push people to park at the Gateway Winter Lot, which isn’t restricted. Now that lot is overflowing, with people parking along the road.

Trails are getting far more use, while budgets to maintain them are down. Isn’t it time for the Forest Service to step up and offer a more forward-looking plan to manage the IPW?

Brainard only has one way into the recreation area. Why couldn’t they have developed a plan similar to Rocky’s?

Not only would this have prevented the overcrowding we are seeing now, but it would provide a better experience for visitors.

Visitors are waiting in long lines to try and get into the recreation area. Imagine, making the long drive from Denver, only to wait in line for more than an hour. With timed entry, you are guaranteed entrance as well as a parking space.

The Front Range has exploded with people the last decade. In addition, visitors are pouring in from nearby states like Texas, Missouri and New Mexico.

The flood of people is only going to increase in the coming years.

It’s time to manage our wilderness like the treasures they are. The Forest Service must step up and develop a plan to protect both wilderness, while providing a better experience for visitors. We can not sustain the type of visitation we had this summer long term.

It’s time for a change.