SETH BOSTER email@example.com/636-0332
The Gazette, Colorado Springs
The U.S. Forest Service is moving ahead in its mission to control recreational shooting across Pike National Forest, where land managers have seen troubling trends mix with a growing Front Range population. Target shooting is a valid, historic activity across Forest Service lands, Jason Robertson, acting supervisor of Pike National Forest, acknowledged in starting a recent meeting with rangers and concerned individuals. “But we want to figure out how to better manage it safely and accommodate the amount of use we’re seeing now,” he said. That’s the aim of a plan that’s been in the works for more than two years. The Forest Service calls it the Integrated Management of Target Shooting Project, which foresees building carefully engineered shooting ranges on the Pikes Peak, South Park and South Platte ranger districts — seven altogether. That’s while gunfire would be outlawed in vast swaths of the national forest, including close to Colorado Springs along Gold Camp and Rampart Range roads. Those are areas the Forest Service has tried to ban already due to trash, shot-up trees, sparks causing fires and errant bullets striking people and property. Particular concern has regarded an area known as Turkey Tracks, near the Teller-douglas county line off Colorado 67 north of Woodland Park. Turkey Tracks remains one of the seven ranges the Forest Service has proposed developing, despite continued objection from some locals living nearby. Asked at the recent meeting if the site would be supervised, South Park District Ranger Josh Voorhis said that is not the expectation. “By designing it to include all the safety features to account for noise and other issues we have, we’re hoping that it doesn’t have to be a supervised range,” he said. “Initially, the goal of the Forest Service and our partners is to not be out there on a daily basis telling shooters how to shoot. That’s not in our interest.” One of those partners is Andy Hough, representing the Southern Shooting Partnership. The group of local and state agencies and enthusiasts has collaborated with the Forest Service on the proposed plan. Alongside an experienced shooting range engineer, “we’re trying to make it idiot-proof if you will,” Hough said, suggesting designs that would prevent stray bullets and limit noise. “Just the facility itself is going to mitigate probably 90% of the problems initially.” If not, he said, that’s the point of the “adaptive management” strategy being proposed. Translation, said South Platte District Ranger Brian Banks: “We have tools that allow us to try things differently if they aren’t working.” That could mean adding supervision, officials said at the meeting. That could mean charging a fee at the ranges — potentially necessary, too, for trash removal and other maintenance, Voorhis said. “Initially going in, (ranges) will be free of charge,” he said. “But we’ll have to see how much it’s costing, what kind of funds we have, if we have partner support. We may not be able to keep them free if the cost becomes excessive.” Other than Turkey Tracks, a Forest Service map shows proposed gun ranges at the Buffalo Creek Gun Club and off Forest Service roads 536, 255A, 704, 865 and 370.I. Project organizers have identified Turkey Tracks as suitable for its lines of sight in the Hayman burn scar, its rolling topography lending to natural backstops and its long-held popularity. Some locals have sounded in favor of a range there, saying it would be safer than shooters elsewhere in the surrounding forest. Others have said the Forest Service’s surrounding closures could create a “funnel effect” and more problems at Turkey Tracks. “These ranges are going to be close to somebody or something,” Banks said. “On my district, you can’t go a mile without hitting a road or infrastructure where there’s people recreation or living. There is no secret area that’s completely isolated. That’s one of the fundamental challenges we have with this process.” The Forest Service is requesting public comment through a project webpage Nov. 28-Dec. 28. A draft decision is expected in May 2024, ahead of a final decision that September. • Rocky Mountain National Park is returning its reservation system in 2024, marking a fourth summer of the crowd management. The details are similar to years past. One change noted in the park’s recent announcement: making some timed-entry slots available to book online the night before at 7 p.m., rather than at 5 p.m. previously. “These (slots) are expected to run out quickly and visitors are encouraged to plan ahead when possible,” according to the announcement posted to the park’s Facebook. One commenter considered the change “a bummer,” saying it “gives you even less time to make alternate plans if you don’t get a reservation.” The park reported hearing “from many members of the public that 5 p.m. was a difficult time of day to make a reservation due to work schedules” and commuting. Next year, reservations will be required starting May 24 through the first few weeks of October. On May 1 at Recreation.gov, people can start booking visits for dates later that month and through June. Similar to 2023, two types of permits will be offered: One for the popular Bear Lake Road corridor and another for the rest of the park excluding that corridor. For Bear Lake Road, reservations will be required from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. The “rest of the park” permit is required from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visitors have commonly entered before and after those time windows. That’s a point the park has emphasized to Estes Park locals dismayed by the regulations: Residents “have the ability to take advantage of their proximity to the park” and “visit early or later in the day without a timed entry permit.” Officials are still calling the reservation system “a pilot,” as it was referred to in 2020. The park launched the first-of-itskind system that summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The pilot continues to garner mixed reviews — some saying the visitor experience has improved while others report hassles. A recent news release from the park said the pilots have been “effective” in addressing “crowding, congestion and impacts on park resources.” The release noted the park has still “received some of the highest visitation in its history,” specifically citing 4.4 million visits in 2021. That was down from pre-pandemic numbers tracked by the National Park Service (closer to 4.6 million in both 2018 and 2019). Rocky Mountain National Park reported 4.3 million visits in 2022. Park officials are currently crafting a long-term plan for day use visitation and seeking public comment. An open house is scheduled for Nov. 27 in Estes Park; comments can also be submitted online. • Colorado Parks and Wildlife is encouraging people to swap the Black Friday checkout line for a trail the day after Thanksgiving. Fresh Air Friday is back for a ninth year. Entry to Colorado’s 42 state parks will be free in a tradition aiming to extend the day of thanks to the outdoors — and to perhaps shed some calories and relieve some holiday stress. Front Range enthusiasts and families might opt for a park near or farther away, perhaps returning to a favorite or discovering a new preserve. Crowds have come to be expected on the day at Roxborough State Park, the red rock wonderland near Littleton. That’s the case as well at Golden Gate Canyon State Park, though surely one will find space at one of Colorado’s largest state parks composed of mixed forests, meadows and impressive granite outcrops. Similar in natural variety and views is Staunton State Park, near Conifer. Also between Denver and Colorado Springs is Castlewood Canyon State Park, the surprise rocky expanse on the plains by Franktown. Cheyenne Mountain State Park tends to get overlooked, despite sitting at the base of Colorado Springs’ second-most recognizable mountain. On the other side of the Pikes Peak region, Teller County’s Mueller State Park is among parks planning a guided hike; details of a 1-mile loop are listed on CPW events calendar. Check that calendar for other plans, or call or check Facebook pages of individual parks.