Rio Grande National Forest plans to increase recreational opportunities

RIO GRANDE NATIONAL FOREST- The Upper Rio Grande Economic Development group met for their regular meeting on Aug. 11 to welcome Rio Grande National Forest Divide District Ranger Martha Williamson who gave a brief presentation on a Colorado the Beautiful grant that was awarded in June. The grant was awarded in the amount of $68,900 and will be used to facilitate a strategic plan to increase recreational use of the Rio Grande Forest.

“The Divide Ranger District for the Rio Grande National Forest is just shy of 1 million acres and covers the portion of the Rio Grande defined by the boundaries of Carnero Creek going west over Mesa Mountain following the Continental Divide to Spring Creek Pass, around to Stoney Pass and down to the headwaters of the Rio Grande to Wolf Creek and to Elwood, down to the Valley floor just above Monte Vista,” explained Williamson.

Williamson began her presentation stating that Rio Grande Divide Ranger District is a unique location because of the diversity of terrain. “The combination of desert floor to 13,000-foot peaks with everything in between creates a pretty unique set of landscapes to manage and have access to.”

The Forest is also uniquely distanced from the recreational push that some of the other locations around the state see in National Forests in areas like the Front Range. “What has really struck me here, is that we have the golden opportunity to learn some lessons from what is happening in other National Forests where they are in a position of needing to be reactive to increases in recreational use.”

Williamson continued to point out that some of the more populated and popular locations in the Front Range deal with a variety of recreational usage increases with minimal management capabilities and that her district can now use their experiences as a platform to move forward with a plan to increase recreational use of the Divide Ranger District while remaining good stewards of the Forest.

“Again, we have the golden opportunity here to put ourselves on the path to being able to welcome additional recreational use in the Forest and also foster better relationships by different user groups by virtue of being able to see that we are going to need to accommodate more people here because it’s beautiful here, because there’s room and because the communities around the Forest need the influx of people to the communities.”

“This Colorado the Beautiful grant is the last of the funding cycle through Colorado Great Outdoors funding for this year and I applied for this grant to chart a course for welcoming this increase of recreational use of the Divide Ranger District specifically while navigating around foreseeable resource and social impacts.”

Williamson explained that by social impacts, the Forest will look at areas that can handle increased recreational use while continuing to protect areas that may not be able to handle the increase and plans will include improvements to infrastructure to facilitate the increase in use. “With a little bit of time and effort and foresight we can really lead being the Divide Range District that channels additional use, additional people coming to recreate and enjoy public lands toward the places that can handle it like developed recreation site like hardened campgrounds and picnic areas or trailheads or trails. We can create some really lovely places for people to go which attracts them away from the areas that can’t actually handle the increase in recreation.”

The plan will include strategies that create ready to deploy plans to manage use that exceeds capacity in the Forest’s multiple use landscape. Williamson explained that she is looking at a seven-point plan to bring people together to enjoy the diverse landscape offered by the Forest. “Hearing the need and the desire for economic growth and economic development in the San Luis Valley…we really need to work together to ensure that the Forest is ready to accommodate this usage.”