Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Comments on the Draft Visitor Plan

To: OSMP Board of Trustees, Staff
From: Guy Burgess
Subject: Comments on the Draft Visitor Plan – Community Group Process
Date: July 1, 2004

Note: This post was written prior to the creation of this blog and as part of an earlier stage in the ongoing public debate over Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks policies. While somewhat dated, the post still raises important issues which are still relevant.

The Community Group process has taken a major step toward positively transforming the high level of hostility that many previously felt toward the OSMP Visitor Planning process. It is imperative that future efforts build upon and extend these accomplishments with continued collaboration and meaningful involvement opportunities for these and other interested individuals and groups. In short, any repudiation of this process would be a grave mistake. It is also clear that much more work will be needed and that this is simply the beginning of what must be a continuing process. More specific comments include the following.

1) New Trails
The draft reports consideration of possible new trail corridors begins to add a "carrot" side to what has previously been a "stick" or "regulation only" process. It is important that these efforts continue. It will be a lot easier for people to accept increased restrictions, if they are also accompanied by increased opportunities. In this regard you may find the many visitor opportunities that I identified as part of my Connection Ecology project to be useful. I would be more than happy to work with OSMP develop these and other similar ideas.
Ecology Hikes –
History Hikes –
Inspirational Viewpoints –

Visitor Resource Maps –
Legend –
Flagstaff –
Green Mountain –
Bear Peak –
Eldorado Mountain –

2) Don't Overrate the Power of Regulations
Irresponsible visitors will, from time to time, do undesirable things that cause damage and require cleanup, impact mitigation, and natural healing. In many if not most cases new visitor restrictions are unlikely to restrain these irresponsible individuals. Instead they will simply undermine the experiences of responsible visitors and promote resentment toward OSMP staff. The plain fact is that there are some problems that regulations can't fix.

3) Precautionary Visitor Restrictions
With respect to the imposition of "precautionary"visitor restrictions to protect environmental resources (including designation of the new habitat conservation areas) I suggest that the following steps be followed:

a. As part of the process of implementing a precautionary visitor restriction OSMP should articulate as precisely as possible the nature of any environmental concern. After all, effective protection requires a clear image of what you're trying to protect.
b. The scientific basis of the concern along with outstanding uncertainties should be clearly acknowledged and posted online.
c. Wherever possible and affordable, efforts should be undertaken to resolve uncertainties that have a substantial impact on the need for visitor restrictions.
d. Efforts should also be undertaken to find the least disruptive way of addressing the concerns.
e. The benefits of any environmental restrictions should also be weighed against the costs in terms of lost visitor opportunities. The making of wise and equitable trade-off decisions is an integral part of the OSMP mission.
f. The public should be involved at every stage of the process. This suggests that public "calls for proposals" be issued challenging affected interest groups to find less disruptive ways of addressing environmental concerns.
g. Each issue should also be re-examined periodically with opportunities to tighten or loosen regulations as appropriate.

4) Social Trail / Off Trail Issues
The entire social trail / off trail issue is quite complex and requires the consideration many issues. I have prepared and previously submitted a number of documents highlighting the many benefits associated with visitor experiences off mapped trails and suggesting ways in which adverse environmental impacts can be minimized. I would be happy to participate in efforts to further develop these ideas.

Trails –
Slideshow –
Trail Types –
Off Trail Access –
See also the attached social trail map and memo.

5) Equitable Access
There are also important issues of equitable access. I have already written about problems in the Devils Thumb / Shannahan Ridge and Eldorado Springs areas.
Equitable Access –
Equitable Access Slideshow –

6) Need for Additional Facilities
At the recent OSMP Board meeting a question was raised about whether or not there was a need for additional visitor capacity. Given the virtual saturation of the Chautauqua area on busy weekends and the routine overflow of the Dowdy Draw / South Mesa Trail parking lots, it is pretty clear that we have reached the point where it is time to start thinking seriously about increasing system capacity

7) HCA Permitting System
The proposed permitting system for the habitat conservation areas could easily have the effect of increasing rather than decreasing visitation. Even minimal public notice of the existence of such program would suggest hiking in these areas to people who may never considered the possibility. The more general publication of guidelines for responsible off-trail travel in all areas would encourage minimal impact visitation in all areas. (See section #4). This would also avoid setting the unpopular precedent of having to ask permission to visit large tracts of taxpayer-funded open-space.

It seems very unlikely that the proposed permitting system would significantly reduce the currently minimal impacts in these areas. Instead, it looks to me like a sneaky way to prevent the consideration of new visitor opportunities in these areas without ever having to make the environmental case that environmentally responsible visitation is impossible. The proposed permit system could, depending upon how it's implemented, also become a mechanism for restricting access to a privileged few. I think that the way that the community groups of address this issue makes a lot of sense and is preferable to the original proposal.

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