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County officials hope to focus on protecting recreational areas

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Tolling, permits considered to raise revenue for maintenance, upgrades

By Ian Neligh

County officials plan to focus this year on better managing outdoor recreational amenities in light of the public’s overuse of Mount Bierstadt and other popular destinations in Clear Creek.

“With the continued growth of the Denver metro area and the entire state, we realize the importance of effective forest and recreational area management,” County Manager Keith Montag said. “The county wants to balance that increased recreational use and tourism while recognizing the concerns of residents in terms of safety, privacy and quality of life.”

Montag said the county wants to work with the state and U.S. Forest Service to better manage the area’s public lands.

“Some of our public lands are being loved to death, and we really need to get a handle on that, whether it be some kind of paid parking, tolling or some other types of restrictions, where we’re not getting overrun,” Montag said.

Brian Banks, South Platte District ranger, said last year that crowds on Mount Bierstadt are prompting the U.S. Forest Service to consider charging visitors to limit damage to the environment. In addition, the county commissioners continue to discuss a toll or permitting system to control access to Guanella Pass to curtail the wear and tear caused by visitors.

“One of our economic development strategies is to promote tourism and recreation. Well, we have to be careful what we ask for, because the more people we bring in, the more impact that is going to have on our environments,” Montag said.

Commissioner Tim Mauck said the issue comes down to balancing the quality of life for county residents with making the community a destination for recreation.

“It is not secret that we have seen an exceptional increase of individuals coming to Clear Creek over the last several years recreating …,” Mauck said, adding that some areas such as Grays and Torreys Peaks are “a mess” as a result of overuse. “I don’t think the experience is as good as it once was.”

Mauck said the county and its partners need to upgrade trailheads and parking area, and to encourage recreational visitors to use areas where there have been fewer impacts.

According to Mauck, some strategies could include implementing paid parking or tolling at recreational access.

“(Which) would actually help generate an income to provide for better management of the recreation and provide better facilities,” Mauck said.

Mauck, who is halfway through his second and last term as a commissioner, said that before he leaves office, he wants to see a multi-jurisdiction effort to create an in-depth management plan, as opposed to a “free for all.”

“Have our restaurants been hurt because they take reservations? No, not at all,” Mauck said. “And I think being located directly above a population of almost 4 million people, we’ve got to really think about that. … Colorado is still growing, and we really need to address that in order to better manage our natural resources.”