Colorado Outdoors Organization Explains How Influx of Hikers Leading to New Challenges

by Emily Morgan

Since 1988, the San Juan Mountains Association in Colorado has worked tirelessly maintaining and caring for our most treasured hiking destinations. This summer volunteers with the organization educated hikers about visiting our public lands responsibly. Their heroic hiking spirit didn’t stop there: volunteers packed out more than 260 pounds of trash from the wilderness.

The result of 2020 led many Americans to become outsiders themselves as they trekked hundreds of miles on our sacred public lands.

The meditative act of talking a walk in the woods brought many Americans a much-needed sense of normalcy amid the unprecedented pandemic. As businesses close their doors, many flocked to the wide-open spaces of the great outdoors.

This recent surge in visitors to public lands is a double-edged sword. As novel hikers took to the trails, many were unaware of the standard practices that protect the forests and its inhabitants. As a result, human waste, toilet paper, and trash have become dangerously commonplace at some of our beloved natural wonders. This present-day assault on trails led one Colorado organization to step up its efforts in protecting the public lands.

Colorado Organization Sets Standard for Outdoor Education & Conservation

The Colorado volunteers worked for 475 hours to educate 9,200 hikers. They removed hundreds of pounds of waste while providing dog poop bags to nudge hikers to pack out their trash. In August, SJMA volunteers extinguished a deserted campfire. Without the volunteers, the area could’ve undergone a dangerous wildfire during the area’s peak season.

Volunteers also partnered with Southwest Conservation Corps to remove debris from trails as a way to give hikers better access. The group also naturalized 298 illegal campsites, installed designated areas for campers, and naturalized unsustainable areas. In addition, volunteers removed more than 70 fallen trees to improve access to a basin.

This year’s uncertainty gave us a much-needed revelation: we need organizations such as the SJMA now more than ever. As our public lands face threats due to climate change and high amounts of visitors, education on conservation and protocol will be vital if we want to protect the outdoors.