Campsite conversions support forest health & outdoor experience

Designated camping helps achieve a major Chaffee Rec Plan objective to provide high-quality, low-impact camping experiences

With a new plan in place to address increased summer visitation, overuse and resource damage on its public lands, the Bureau of Land Management began improvements at the Browns Grotto dispersed camping area near Hecla Junction in June of 2023.

“Browns Grotto showed up online a few years ago, and it has been getting more and more use ever since,” said Kalem Lenard, assistant field manager for the BLM Royal Gorge Field Office. Unmanaged use at the popular free camping site resulted in a nearly bare parking lot with a lot of trash, as well as conflicts with a homeowner when tents blocked the driveway and their trash receptacles were filled with camper refuse.

The response to these impacts at Browns Grotto and elsewhere is to create designated sites on the 38,000 acres managed by the BLM in Chaffee County. This means campers must choose a numbered site, which helps contain impacts to specific areas and works toward limiting trash and human waste. 

The BLM will designate about 150 campsites to retain existing regular-use capacity at Shavano, Fourmile, Methodist Mountain and Pass Creek, among other areas in Chaffee County. The new plan was approved in 2023 after an extensive public process. The cost of designating sites is supported by a Chaffee Common Ground grant to the National Forest Foundation, to purchase numbered site posts, metal campfire rings, and educational signage. Unsustainable sites — on steep slopes, fragile soils or next to waterways — will be decommissioned.

Adding designated camping helps achieve a major Chaffee County Outdoor Recreation Management Plan objective to provide high-quality, low-impact camping experiences across the county. Designated camping is implemented by agency staff with help from the National Forest Foundation, Chaffee Recreation Rangers and Chaffee Rec Adopters. A Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant, as well as contributions from Chaffee County and the BLM, help fund designated camping.