Forest Service ready to roll out reservation system at popular Conundrum Hot Springs
Backpackers planning to visit Conundrum Hot Springs this summer will have to shop before they soak this year.
The White River National Forest announced details Tuesday on a new reservations system that will be implemented starting this spring. Travelers hoping to land one of the designated camping sites in the spectacular wilderness setting will have to make a reservation at http://www.recreation.gov.
The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District is implementing the first reservation system in the heavily visited Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness in an effort to ease pressure on a beleaguered ecosystem.
The maximum number of people that will be able to camp at one time is 68, if all sites are filled to capacity, said Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Karen Schroyer.
“In the past we had upward of 200 to 300 people at the busiest times spending the night around Conundrum Hot Springs,” she said.
The local office of the Forest Service worked for a few years to on a management plan and reservation system — first collecting baseline data on use, then collecting public input and finally releasing a management plan. The concept of limiting visitors received widespread support.
The first block of reservations will become available on April 18 for April 18-July 31.
Reservations to the campsites from Aug. 1 through Nov. 30 will be available starting June 15. Winter permits — Dec. 1 through March 31 — will be available Oct. 15.
(In future years, the reservations from April 1 through July 31 will become available on Feb. 15.)
Getting the desired nights, particularly on weekends, will require users to be ready to hop on their computers or other devices on the days the blocks became available. Schroyer said people should register in advance on the http://www.recreation.gov website so they can focus on a reservation on the day sites become available.
There will be 17 designated campsites to start. The Forest Service intends to add three more for a total of 20 sites.
Each site has a capacity of two to six people. The capacity of each site is spelled out on the online registration website. There is a limit of two permits per calendar year per person at Conundrum Hot Springs, Schroyer noted. The maximum length of stay is three nights between June 1 and Sept. 1, and seven nights for the rest of the year.
The permit will cost $10, which will be retained exclusively by the operator of the online reservation system. Schroyer said the Forest Service’s wilderness rangers will patrol to make sure campers have a valid permit. The permits must be printed and displayed at the campsite.
Any campers without a permit will be directed by the wilderness rangers to vacate the Conundrum Hot Springs zone, Schroyer said. They will also be subject to a citation and a fine. The standard penalty hasn’t been set yet.
Forest Service officials feel limiting the camping capacity to 68 people at one time will benefit the environment, but an adaptive management plan will let the agency implement further restrictions if necessary.
“We may find that we have to limit numbers even more than we’re looking at,” Schroyer said. Other potential steps could be relocating campsites and requiring mandatory use of bags to haul out human waste.
Katie Nelson, wilderness and trails program coordinator on the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, said the new reservation system will help with a “redistribution” of visitors to the hot springs. It will flatten out peak periods when hundreds of backpackers crammed into the upper valley. It will likely spread use into less busy weekdays.
The Forest Service has said a second phase of reservations will likely be enacted in coming years along the popular Four Pass Loop, a popular, multi-day backpacking adventure in the 181,976-acre Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. There’s no timetable for expanding the reservation system.
In the Conundrum zone, the restrictions on camping and requirements for a permit extend from Silver Dollar Pond downvalley from the hot springs to Triangle Pass, above the springs.
The Conundrum Hot Springs page is now available to view on http://www.recreation.gov. It won’t be possible to reserve sites for the first block of time until 8 a.m. on April 18.
The website includes a short video and written information on Leave No Trace principles of environmentally friendly camping.
Schroyer said adjustments to the reservation system will likely be required.
“We know there’s going to be hiccups as we move forward,” she said.
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