The City of Boulder's Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) Department has just instituted a new permitting system for off-trail travel on what will eventually be about 38% percent of OSMP land. While the permitting system represents an improvement over earlier efforts to completely close these areas, the system, as currently structured, falls short of the Department's commitment (embodied in its Visitor Master Plan) to employ the "least restrictive" policies for achieving its environmental protection objectives.
Requiring permits for significant off-trail excursions makes some sense. It allows OPSMP to advise visitors on low-impact travel techniques, warn them about especially sensitive areas, and track visitation. However, since these areas are already very lightly visited, it seems doubtful that all the hassle and expense will yield significant environmental benefits.
The bigger problem, however, is the department's decision to require permits for VERY short diversions (less the 100 yards) from what is fundamentally an on-trail trip. Under the current rules, for example, you'll have to pretty much sit on the trail and enjoy your lunch as people walk by. If you don't want to be (literally) underfoot and if you want to enjoy a little privacy and solitude, you'll need to get a permit, in advance.
You also better have access to the Web. Otherwise, you'll have to send a letter or make a trip to an OSMP office (during business hours), which may take longer than your hike. If you choose to ignore these rules, you're at their mercy. They can fine you $1000.
That's not all. You'll need a permit if you want to take a picture, but the angle from the trail isn't quite right. You'll need a permit if you want to get a better look at the Western Tanager that just flew into the tree down the hill. You'll need a permit if you hike to the top of Long Canyon and you want to walk across the road and admire the view of the Indian Peaks from the clearing 50 yards off the road.
You'll also need a permit if you take the trail around the North Side of Flagstaff or up Green Mountain and want to scamper a few yards out to one of the viewpoints. And, the way the maps are currently written, you'll need a permit to check out the view at Stoney Point.
There are also ominous hints that if too many permits are requested during the first, experimental year of the program, then OSMP will start limiting the number available. Surely the miniscule environmental impact of giving users access to a 100-yard corridor on each side of the trail would be outweighed by improvements in the quality of the visitor experience.
Still, there is one bright spot. Exemptions are granted to heed the "call of nature" (which is never really defined). It seems to me that heeding the "call of the wild" and the "call of nature" are pretty much the same thing. So, maybe we don't have to follow the rules after all.
All joking aside, OSMP's on-trail requirement is a deliberate decision reflecting misplaced priorities. I respectfully ask the City Council to ask OSMP to amend those policies.