Colorado national forests see increase in camping trash

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DENVER -- National forests across Colorado are reporting an increase in trash at campsites and wooded areas where camping is not allowed.

According to spokesman Reid Armstrong from the Boulder Ranger District, Forest Service employees have been working harder than ever cleaning up after campers.

"They're having a huge impact on our water resources and our wildlife by leaving trash behind," Armstrong said.

During the summer in the Boulder Ranger District, 714 bags of trash were taken to the landfill by Forest Service employees, 263 unauthorized fire rings were removed and employees extinguished 88 unattended campfires.

On a tour of the national forest with two recreation technicians, it's clear the problem is widespread.

In Forsythe Canyon south of Magnolia Drive, the impact is apparent. A short walk up a foot path shows people are setting fires where they are banned.

An abandoned fire ring is accompanied by a half dozen dead trees, seemingly shot to the ground at a makeshift gun range.

"It's legal to shoot here," recreation technician Beth Liska said. "It's got a pretty nice back drop. What's not legal is shooting at the trees or leaving shooting litter."

Fallen trees can be a hazard to wildlife.

"Bears like to pick through those and can ingest lead," Liska said.

Farther up the road, three campsites are cluttered with trash, rotting food and abandoned furniture.

Recreation technician Lucero Torres and Liska heard a tip about the campsite, which features a full-sized refrigerator and a bed with box springs.

"I'm very surprised to see this much stuff left in the condition that it's in," Torres said. "It looks to be a couple of days old."

Most of the items can't be removed, in case the owners return, but the exposed food was removed and thrown away.

"We're in bear country," Torres said. "Once they get attracted to the food, they're going to come they're going to eat it, they're going to spread it all over the place. What's going to happen is if bears start associating food with campsites, they're going to start visiting other campsites."

The bears could become a danger to campers, in which case Colorado Parks and Wildlife will put them down.

Torres wrote three warnings and left them on each campsite. Though she admits they might do little good, it's likely all three sites were abandoned.

Torres said she believes the items might've been taken as part of a disposal contract.

"A lot of times individuals will say 'OK, you can pay me such and such amount and I will take these materials and I will take it to the dump site for you. But they're pocketing the money and instead leave it some place like this," Torres said.