It's no secret that outdoor recreation is more popular than ever, and there are few (if any) places more popular than Colorado for indulging in wanderlust. An ever-increasing population, along with more and more visitors, have created not only an economic boom, but also seasonal crowding at local, state and national parks, along with our forests. Land managers, faced with the increasing hordes of visitors and the conflicts, refuse and general wear-and-tear that accompanies increased usage, have been trying to effectively manage resources.
In some cases that means limiting entry and hours, such as at Red Rock Canyon Open Space, North Cheyenne Cañon Park, Palmer Park and the Garden of the Gods. In other cases, managing crowds includes new fees. Colorado Parks and Wildlife now requires a hunting or fishing license or a state "wildlife area pass" for spots that had not originally been intended for recreation, and had been free for hikers and cyclists to use.
In some areas, entry is based on a reservation system. Last year, Rocky Mountain National Park did just that. Originally implemented to reduce crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new version of "timed entry" and limited access will be in effect this year as a pilot program. The ever popular — and in past years, horribly overrun — Hanging Lake in the White River National Forest has seen a few iterations of visitor management, and now visitors will need to make a reservation. Visitors to the South Slope Recreation on Pikes Peak have always needed to make a reservation. As a response to COVID-19, a free reservation system has been in place since the fall for anyone wanting to climb the Manitou Incline, and while it's not a requirement, it is a good idea to get a pass in advance if you want to drive to the summit of Pikes Peak (by the way, the summit is closed until May 22). And dispersed camping in the San Carlos Ranger District of the Pike National forest? Well, you'll need a reservation for that, too. Want to visit the Paint Mines Interpretive Park after dark to enjoy the stars? You guessed it. You'll need a $100 pass for a group of up to 10, reserved in advance.
Wake up on a beautiful weekend morning and decide to take the family to Rocky Mountain National Park? Forget about it if you haven't made a reservation, which by the way is "timed," so even if you do score a one, don't make any unscheduled stops on the way. Want to drop in to Dome Rock State Wildlife Area in the fall for a hike to enjoy the fall colors while on your way back from Cripple Creek? Not going to happen if you didn't think to stop at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife office or a fishing shop on the way so you could get a license to enter.
It's hard to argue that something had to be done to manage all these places. Hanging Lake had become a wasteland, mostly due to misbehavior of some visitors. But the U.S. Forest Service was also inexorably slow to react and get a plan together. The reservation system was the only way to get Manitou Springs to finally stop their unreasonable, and legally murky blockading of the Incline, and the gates at popular city parks are also in response to a few bad apples.
While I — and many of you, I'm sure — plan out our bigger, longer trips in advance and to the last detail, I am mostly spontaneous. I wake up, look at my calendar for the day, check the weather, feed the dog, and then go some place for a hike. And yes, our city, county and state parks are always open, but otherwise, well, good luck.
Spontaneity is dead.
Be good. Do good things. PLAN AHEAD.