Conundrum Hot Springs
Conundrum Hot Springs, CO
Perched at 11,200 feet, Conundrum Hot Springs, near Aspen, Colorado, are among the highest elevation hot springs in North America. With over 6,000 overnight visitors during the short summer season, the delicate tundra ecosystem faces large impacts due to the high volume of visitor use in this concentrated alpine area. Impacts include improper disposal of human waste, trampled vegetation, bears getting into visitor food and supplies, and user conflicts. The hot springs have also gained a party reputation caused by the overcrowding and alcohol discrepancies. This often manifests as impact when there is out-of-bounds camping, illegal fires, litter and user conflicts with those seeking solitude in this wilderness area.
During an overnight site visit and annual spring clean-up, the Traveling Trainers and White River National Forest staff dug 10 catholes for improperly disposed of human waste and handed out 35 WAG-bags to visitors at the springs. The use of WAG-bags is strongly encouraged and they are freely distributed for visitors. However, many visitors in this wilderness have not previously been exposed to these disposal techniques and do not take the pack out system. They also dismantled illegal fire rings, packed out 20 lbs. of trash, and made educational contact with all the visitors in and around the springs. The Forest Conservancy is a large volunteer group that patrols the Conundrum Hot Springs trail and the other popular areas within the White River National Forest. In 2016, the group logged over 9,000 volunteer hours reaching 50,000 visitors. This group plays an extremely important role in visitor education, making it crucial for them to be involved in Hot Spot efforts. The Leave No Trace staff taught these volunteers how to educate visitors about the impacts their recreation-related behaviors have on local resources and how those impacts can be prevented. Since the conclusion of the Hot Spot visit, White River National Forest has integrated Leave No Trace into the forest’s Visitor Use Management messaging, including signage, maps and verbal messaging from rangers. While on-site at Conundrum Hot Springs, the Traveling Trainer team spent time putting together a video that could be used to inform visitors to Conundrum about the impacts in the area and how to prevent them. This video is now a part of the new permitting system visitors must go through to access the hot springs.
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