Rangers patrol, clean up public lands under new program

On a Thursday morning in early July, the Chaffee Rec Rangers arrive at the Buffalo Peaks Trailhead deep in the Fourmile Recreation Management Area where remnants of a campfire remain after last weekend’s visitor activity.

“Folks had a bonfire here using a stack of wood pallets as fuel,” Rec Ranger Miles Crane says as he plucks a handful of nails out of an ash pile in the parking lot. “Someone’s going to come back from a hike and return to their vehicle with four flat tires.”

Chaffee Rec Rangers clean up an ash pile in the Buffalo Peaks Trailhead parking lot in July of 2021.

The nails and ash are scooped up with shovels by Crane and the rest of the crew. They install a “No Fires/No Camping” sign at the edge of the popular trailhead, along with another sign reminding visitors to clean up after pets.

The five-person crew had already fixed the perimeter fence at Bob’s Rock — a popular climbing crag — and protected a grassy meadow on Fourmile Creek from off-roaders. They also stopped to discuss campsite options with a group interested in setting up for the holiday weekend. The visitors were surprised to hear that they should not drive off-road into the forest to camp.

“A small number of people still need to receive that education, that there are places you can’t go with a vehicle for national forest lands to be preserved for current and future generations,” Crane said. 

The U.S. Forest Service Salida Ranger District manages and funds the majority of the Rec Rangers’ work on all lands in Chaffee County. Financial support is provided by the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado State Land Board and Chaffee Common Ground.

The program was developed under the Chaffee County Outdoor Recreation Management Plan to help address the impacts of dispersed camping. Recreation use more than doubled in the Fourmile area in the last seven years, according to volunteer monitoring.

Forest Patrol Officers like Crane are able to implement the “Three E’s”: education, engineering and enforcement, said USFS Recreation Program Manager Lisa Mellick. “Added staff presence can also result in less vandalism and a greater sense of respect for natural resources.”

The Rangers patrolled the county’s busiest recreation areas in the summer of 2021. They installed nearly 3,500 feet of buck-and-rail fence, maintained or installed more than 270 signs and dismantled 125 campfire rings between April and October.

The Rangers also worked on forest roads, restoring mud bogs and deep ruts and installing natural barriers. Lodgepole logs for buck-and-rail fences were harvested from local forests at high risk for wildfire. Thousands of trees were felled by Southwest Conservation Corps sawyer crews — also supported by the Common Ground Fund — and erected by the Rangers to contain campsites and keep vehicles on legal roads.

View more Stories of Impact from Chaffee Common Ground.