970 Grand County

Balancing Recreation and Preservation: Insights from a Grand County District Ranger, Eric Freels

June 11, 2024 Gaylene Ore Season 3 Episode 44
Balancing Recreation and Preservation: Insights from a Grand County District Ranger, Eric Freels
970 Grand County
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970 Grand County
Balancing Recreation and Preservation: Insights from a Grand County District Ranger, Eric Freels
Jun 11, 2024 Season 3 Episode 44
Gaylene Ore

How do we balance the growing demand for outdoor recreation with the need to preserve our natural landscapes? Join us as we chat with Eric Frieels, the District Ranger for the Sulphur Ranger District in Grand County.  Eric talks about the myriad of recreational options, from hiking and biking to horseback riding, and discuss the crucial role of water management projects like the Colorado Big Thompson Project. Learn how partnerships with Winter Park Ski Resort help enhance year-round activities, ensuring there's something for everyone, no matter the season.

We talk about  the stewardship of the public lands, emphasizing the surge in outdoor activities since COVID-19 and the anticipated population growth in Colorado's Front Range. Eric shares key insights on responsible recreation, including planning ahead, staying on trails, and being fire-wise. Discover how the seven principles of Leave No Trace  and Stand Grand can help us all contribute to preserving these natural treasures. This episode is a must-listen for anyone passionate about enjoying and sustaining our public lands.

For information on camping:
https://www.recreation.gov/camping

For information on the Sulphur Ranger District:
https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/arp

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

How do we balance the growing demand for outdoor recreation with the need to preserve our natural landscapes? Join us as we chat with Eric Frieels, the District Ranger for the Sulphur Ranger District in Grand County.  Eric talks about the myriad of recreational options, from hiking and biking to horseback riding, and discuss the crucial role of water management projects like the Colorado Big Thompson Project. Learn how partnerships with Winter Park Ski Resort help enhance year-round activities, ensuring there's something for everyone, no matter the season.

We talk about  the stewardship of the public lands, emphasizing the surge in outdoor activities since COVID-19 and the anticipated population growth in Colorado's Front Range. Eric shares key insights on responsible recreation, including planning ahead, staying on trails, and being fire-wise. Discover how the seven principles of Leave No Trace  and Stand Grand can help us all contribute to preserving these natural treasures. This episode is a must-listen for anyone passionate about enjoying and sustaining our public lands.

For information on camping:
https://www.recreation.gov/camping

For information on the Sulphur Ranger District:
https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/arp

Speaker 1:

My guest today is Eric Frielz. Eric is the District Ranger for the South Ranger District here in Grand County. We talk about so many things today, such as recreational opportunities on the district, water management, visitor education, fire safety, the wilderness areas and how one gets a permit to visit this great area. So sit back and enjoy my interview with. Eric. Good morning, Eric. How are you today?

Speaker 3:

Good morning, gaylene, I'm fine. Thank you for having me today.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I'm so glad you're joining me. The Forest Service how much land does the Forest Service have here in Grand County?

Speaker 3:

Well, in Grand County, the Sulphur Ranger District. So we're part of the Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forest and Pawnee Grassland National Grassland. We are a forest that manages about 1.5 million acres. In north central Colorado we go all the way from the Wyoming border north of Fort Collins down to Clear Creek County and Idaho Springs area and then on the west side of the divide continental divide here is the Sulphur Ranger District and we go all the way west to Highway 9 there in Summit County. But here in Grand County the Arapaho National Forest in the Sulphur Ranger District manages 442,000 acres. So that's what we have here in Grand County. Also in Grand County also is the Route National Forest, which is the Med Bow Medicine Bow. Route National Forest also has a considerable amount of acres here in Grand County.

Speaker 1:

So how does that work when you have two different districts?

Speaker 3:

So the Arapahoe Roosevelt National Forest and Pawnee National Grassland is made up of five districts. Actually, our ranger districts are the Sulphur Ranger District here in Grand County, the Clear Creek Ranger District over in Idaho Springs, the Boulder Ranger District in Boulder, the Canyon Lakes Ranger District out of Fort Collins, and then we have the Pawnee, which manages the Pawnee National Grassland, and so we collectively have a geographic jurisdiction that is managed by that district, with one district ranger per district that helps to manage and provide that leadership to the district. So that's how we, you know, we operate in coordination with each other. Many of our activities and actions and public interests go across borders, as you can imagine, and we just have to coordinate closely on those things with each other.

Speaker 1:

I can't believe that there's that much land here in Grand County. That's crazy, it's a lot of land. So with that much land there's a lot of recreational opportunities. What are some of those recreational opportunities that Sulphur Ranger District offers?

Speaker 3:

Almost our entire district. The Sulphur Ranger District is within Grand County and just a little background to kind of frame this recreation conversation up we have five wilderness areas within our district that are accessed through the Sulphur Ranger District and some of our partnering adjacent districts. We are also the headwaters for the Colorado River here and I would say that water is a key component of the Sulphur Ranger District. Here in Grand County we have the Three Lakes system, which is a part of the Colorado Big Thompson Project, which utilizes the three lakes Lake Granby, shadow Mountain Reservoir and Grand Lake to deliver water to the Front Range through the Adams Tunnel which starts at Grand Lake and goes about 13 miles under Rocky Mountain National Park to the East Portal. That's a large component of our district. We manage the Arapahoe National Recreation Area, often referred to as ANRA, as an acronym A-N-R-A. That's a 36,000 congressionally designated acre recreation area that encompasses in entirety Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Lake Granby and the waters on it. So that is managed here out of this district. Additionally to water collection, we work with Denver Water who has an extensive water collection system on the south end of the district in the Fraser Valley area. The water collected from the forest on this end of the district is transported via the Moffett Tunnel and is delivered to the east side of the Continental Divide. So I just want to point those two large water components of our district out as that's a major part of our management plan and our focus here.

Speaker 3:

We're one of the most visited national forests in the country the Arapahoe Roosevelt National Forest, roosevelt National Forest and Pontiac National Grassland with around 7.5 million visitors a year. And, to your question, most of these visitors are here to recreate right, and this is a large focus of our forest. As I said earlier, you know most of the districts are on the front range of Colorado, from Fort Collins down to Idaho Springs. So, as you can imagine, there's a large population center that enjoy recreating and enjoy getting out, and that's a big area where we see a lot of our visitors.

Speaker 3:

We work across the forest. We manage and maintain hundreds of miles of trails and roads. Most of the trails are open to multiple users, such as hiking, biking and horseback riding, and we just have a lot of use on our trails. Additionally, our district the Sulphur Ranger District we manage 15 campgrounds just on the district alone here in Grand County and those are managed through our campground concessionaire, who is Vista Recreation. So yeah, we manage numerous recreational opportunities through special use permits as well. These are opportunities for private businesses to offer opportunities to the public to enjoy their public lands by renting a boat on one of the lakes or a UTV, or going on a guided hike or fishing guide or multiple options in between. So that's a big part of our program here as well, and sorry, you have a question there about that.

Speaker 1:

You know, I told you at one point I worked for the Forest Service, but I had no idea that you do. It's crazy.

Speaker 3:

Well, I appreciate that, and that's not all.

Speaker 3:

So, we also manage the special use permit for Winter Park Ski Resort, which is located on the forest in our district ski resort, which is located on the forest in our district. We work closely with them as a partner in collaboration to help them manage that part of the forest for both winter and summer recreational opportunities and, as you know, that's a big draw for folks to come here not only in the winter but in the summer as well. And then, lastly, a big focus that we have here on the Sulphur District is our fire recovery efforts from the East Troublesome Fire of 2020. This had a huge impact on recreational opportunities in that 200,000 acre footprint where the fire was located and we're working closely with partners to help recover and address issues we're seeing with erosion and helping the vegetation to recover in this area. One example of this is our plan to plant approximately 250,000 lodgepole pine this summer in the fire scar as a way to help recover some of those vegetative losses we experienced.

Speaker 1:

Wow, right, there is a lot, and I know summer and winter are very different, but we're going into the summer season. We have seen a huge increase of trail usage and just outdoor recreation in general. Since COVID We've seen a big jump on that. What are your thoughts on how visitors and locals can be more responsible stewards of our public lands? I mean, it's really a precious commodity that we have up here.

Speaker 3:

It is, and you know what we're trying to do is Working with our partners like yourself, and with the Chambers of Commerce and all the municipalities here in Grand County to really one of the focuses is to provide information and education. You know, we're seeing a lot of influx of users that may be coming and camping for the first time, or they just want to experience the outdoors in their own way, and they don't have much experience in that, and they don't have much experience in that, and so we want to provide them that opportunity, as they have a right to enjoy their public lands. But we want to provide that opportunity in a way that they're informed, and so one thing that we encourage folks to do is to check our website, check for trail and road conditions. We have a tab on our website that's called Know Before you Go, and that's just hey, do you know where you're going? Do you know the trails? Are the roads open? What's the weather going to be like that week? It's amazing how many folks end up behind a closed gate somehow and they're stuck in snow, and then we have a situation, and so just really knowing what you're doing and trying to stay informed before you come to the forest is a key thing. We partner with Co-TREX. That's a state-run app that updates all of our trails and roads with road closures and seasonal closures and we encourage folks to download that app and use that as part of their outings here on the forest.

Speaker 3:

One thing that we really stress is for folks that are coming up here to camp is to be aware of your fire and while you're camping, make sure your fire is completely out before you leave it to go on a hike or anytime you leave it unattended.

Speaker 3:

Last summer we have a fire prevention program here on the forest now, and last summer we found at least 90 unattended campfires here on the district alone. Unattended campfires are a major cause of wildfires and we just want to be able to educate folks and let them know how to do that successfully and to put their fire out and make sure the coals are cold. So that's, you know, some of those things are checking the website, checking the weather. People often that come up here don't realize that kind of like last night, all of a sudden you can get some snow or some weather and then you don't have a layer and then you're dealing with hypothermia or another situation and just being prepared for being outdoors, carrying extra water, carrying an extra layer, carrying some sunscreen and just knowing where you're going, having the right clothing, having the right footwear and just knowing where you're going. We can't stress that enough and we're trying to find ways to get that information, that messaging, out to the millions of folks that we come and visit our forest.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, Education is just an ongoing effort and the fire thing, I think because we have the East Troublesome Fire is so close to home and last summer hiking we put out two fires that weren't the embers were still going and it's so frustrating. So 90 is 92, many.

Speaker 3:

It is and you know it's like you mentioned, we saw a huge increase with outdoor use since COVID and we anticipate the population of Colorado to keep growing, especially in the front range, anticipate the population of Colorado to keep growing, especially in the front range, and we want folks to enjoy the public lands right, and so it's not that it's not even a question of us not having a choice of not trying to do this and educate folks, because the folks are going to be coming here and so it's on, and so we need to take every opportunity we can to get the word out and to help folks find the resources and find the ways to educate themselves.

Speaker 3:

And that's where we're trying to push our info delivery system in a way that meets the public where they are. Let's go to the trailheads and find them and talk to them and say, hey, do you have what you need? Do you understand where you're going? Do you have a map? Do you have water? And also providing those online resources that they can look this up before they come on their trip, because I think most people anymore are using their phone and other ways to plan and do their trip outings, and we want to be able to meet that need where it is.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, great advice. I have another question for you what actions can we take to protect and preserve our public lands? We touched on some of those things. One thing is like staying on a trail, on a designated trail, versus trying to create your own trail.

Speaker 3:

That's right. No, you hit it on the head there. You know we try to promote the seven tenets of Leave no Trace principles and that's that's. We have a Stand Grand campaign that we're working here with our partners in Grand County and I'll just quickly go over those. And one of them, as I mentioned before, is know before you go, plan ahead and prepare. Know where you're going, know if it's open, know if there's a campsite available if you don't have a reservation or something like that.

Speaker 3:

Two is stick to the trails, like you just said. Travel and camp on durable surfaces and don't cause new disturbances on the landscape. Three pretty easy pack out your trash right. Pack it in, pack it out. Dispose of your waste properly. That includes your dog baggies, your dog poo bags and anything else you see. You know, take it out with you and also leave it as you found it. If you're hiking and you see a patch of wildfires, that's how you want to leave them for the next person to find them.

Speaker 3:

The fifth one is be careful with fire. Put out your fire. We talked about that one, but that's a key one. We want all folks to be more fire wise and just know how to recreate and have fires in a sustainable and informed way. And then this is a big one here is keep wildlife wild. We have lots of wildlife here in Grand County. We have a lot of moose, we have a lot of bears and other animals, and just having the awareness of knowing how to engage with those animals as you come upon them on a trail we have a lot of moose encounters here on a regular basis Moose and dogs are often a volatile situation when they come together, so just having your dogs on a leash and being aware of where your surroundings are is key.

Speaker 3:

And then, lastly, share the trail. As you know, gaylene, our trails are open to multiple users. We have a large mountain biking group here in the county that love our public lands. For that reason, we also have a lot of hikers and we also have people that love to ride their horses and everything in between. They could be hunting or bird watching or you name it.

Speaker 3:

You know everyone enjoys their public lands in their own way, and just sharing the trail and being respectful of each other is a key component that we want to promote. And I would say on that, you know, just helping to teach your children and others that you are with that. You may know these things, but don't assume that everyone else does and help them to understand those and take that opportunity to share this knowledge with folks and just how we can all become better stewards. The Forest Service is open to all 360 million citizens of this country, and that's what I love about it, and everyone recreates and experiences in their own way, and some people just want to go out and read a book and that's how they want to do it, and some people want to go climb a 14er or go downhilling on their mountain bike, and so you know, to each their own in that regard, but we need to be respectful and just find ways that we can recreate together as our population grows and this use kind of the pressure from all users continues to grow.

Speaker 1:

Right, and I think you hit on to the etiquette Trail. Etiquette is so important. A lot of people don't realize that. So isn't it that horses take? If you're on a trail with a horse, the horse you move off the trail for a horse, and then it's a biker and then a hiker.

Speaker 3:

Actually it's bikers yield to hikers and everyone yields to horses.

Speaker 1:

Okay, so that's okay.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, and so that's right and that is a trail etiquette especially. You know we have a lot of motorized trails on the forest as well. Those were impacted by the East Troublesome Fire in the Stillwater area. We're trying to get those back online, but we do have a lot of multiple uses there and especially as you're using motorized use and you come up on a horse, you want to be respectful of that. Slow down, pull aside, let the horse pass you, because those can really spook horses as well.

Speaker 1:

That's a good thing. And I have to tell you a funny story. A friend of mine and I were hiking one day and it really does irritate you when somebody does pick up their dog poop but then leaves the bag there. And my friend said, yeah, I was camping with somebody that did that. And she said, well, you need to take that out with you. And she goes well, no, they come and clean the trail at the end of the day.

Speaker 3:

I'm not sure who they is, but yeah, who is they?

Speaker 1:

No, that's not how it works.

Speaker 3:

No, yeah, and again, that's an opportunity, Like we were just saying that it wasn't done intentionally. That's what she thought. But we can help each other and educate our friends and just help us all be better stewards. And yeah, we don't have the bandwidth or the capacity to go and pick up trash from trails. We work hard with our partners just to get the trails open and make sure the logs are cut out and accessible. Get the trails open and make sure the logs are cut out and accessible. So we couldn't do I want to say, since you reminded me that, that we couldn't do what we do here in Grand County without our partners like Headwaters Trails Alliance and the Grand County Wilderness Group and just some of those groups that really have a passion for public lands and want to help support our effort and our mission. And we just can't say enough about those partnerships and the capacity that they bring to not only our agency but to all of us as public land users.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. I feel so privileged to have lived in this county for 30 plus years and I want somebody that comes here tomorrow to experience the same thing that I have through the years. It's really important that we do keep things as they are and that the leave no trace and the stand grand are such important principles to live by.

Speaker 3:

That's right, I agree. And the Forest Service and public lands in a county like Grand County, which is it's a lot different than the Front Range, where we have a small population base but we have a large percentage for it, shall we say, and connection to the public lands, and so we're happy to play that role here in Grand County and all the support we get from our various partners here.

Speaker 1:

Eric, I do have another question about our wilderness areas, because I don't think a lot of people understand what those are and they do have some separate rules that pertain to them versus regular trails. Can you touch on that?

Speaker 3:

So, like I said, we have five wilderness areas that are accessed just from our district. Some of those are also accessed from the other side of the Continental Divide and other districts. But the Wilderness Act is actually 60 years old this year. It was passed in 1964. So it's a kind of exciting celebration that we have going on. So, to your point, you can't have any motorized or use in the wilderness. That means no bicycle or no mechanized or motorized. No bicycles, no motorcycles, no chainsaws.

Speaker 3:

Really, the Wilderness Act and the Wilderness Areas are there to preserve the integrity of the wilderness setting as much as they can, as it naturally is found, and so we have very busy wilderness areas, even though they're accessible via hiking. We have the Continental Divide Trail that goes right through our district and our wilderness area. That's a heavily used trail, as you know, for through hikers, and we're lucky to be a partner with the Continental Dubai Trail Association Coalition and manage that trail. But the Indian Peaks Wilderness in particular, which is accessed by both the Boulder side and the Sulphur side, requires a permit for camping overnight, and so I would just advise folks that if you're going into the wilderness overnight, check our website, see if you have to have a permit, see if there's availability and just know before you go. Again, like we said, just know where you're going. Not all of our wilderness require a permit to go in camp, so just do your planning ahead of time and be respectful of that situation. But no, they're great assets and they're great jewels in our National Forest System lands.

Speaker 1:

You touched on a permitting system, so we should talk about what. There are certain areas that when you go to hike or bike or whatever, that you do need an ANRA pass.

Speaker 3:

That's right, gaylene. You're referring to the Rapo National Recreation Area. That's the ANRA. We do have a fee. That's a fee area.

Speaker 3:

One of our more popular trailheads is Monarch Lake.

Speaker 3:

I'm sure many of the guests that are hearing this have been there or will be going there. That is an area that's in the ANRA recreation fee area and that entails a $5 fee. Locals can buy an annual pass for $35 a year. You can buy those online and I would say, with all of our fees, the best way to do it is go online to the Rappahoe Roosevelt National Forest website and go to our fees and permits section and buy that permit there. You can have it on your phone and that's how you have it, showing your documentation.

Speaker 3:

Like I said, if you want a campground reservation, those are also done on reservation through recreationgov and if you want to find a campground on the district or on the forest, go to recreationgov. It'll bring up every campground in the area and you can see what's available and make your reservation there. But thanks for bringing that up. We have fee stations throughout the ANRA that you can go and buy a day pass if that's what you'd like to do, or a three-day pass or annual pass and you can recreate responsibly that way.

Speaker 1:

That's great and yeah, you said recreationgov to get information and I would encourage people to make campground reservations. It's amazing how many people come up for 4th of July and think they're going to find a place or any weekend. At this point, that's right.

Speaker 3:

The campgrounds are pretty much booked out for the year. If you haven't got your reservation by now, I would encourage you to do so. Our website, by the way, is wwwfsusdagov. Forward slash ARP for Arapahoe Roosevelt Pawnee.

Speaker 1:

And I'll put that and make sure that that gets in the show notes as well. Great, eric, this is great, and thank you to you and all of everybody that works with you. I know that it's a tough job at time and you have the responsibility is enormous for this county, so we appreciate everything you do.

Speaker 3:

Thank you, gaylene, for saying that, and I can't say enough for the staff we have here on the Suffphur Ranger District. They are passionate and they are committed to the management of public lands and they are very hardworking and they have an arduous task for doing a lot with not a lot of people to help them, and so I appreciate you saying that and we look forward to meeting all your listeners that come out and recreate in Grand County on the Sulphur Ranger District and please let us know how we can help.

Speaker 1:

We will, it's just be responsible.

Speaker 3:

That's right.

Speaker 1:

That's right, Eric. I so appreciate your time. I know you're one busy man.

Speaker 3:

Thank you, Gaylene Anytime.

Speaker 1:

All right, take care you.

Recreational Opportunities in Grand County
Stewardship of Public Lands
Appreciation for County Ranger District