Red Rock Canyon Open Space Feature

Scott, front, and Tara Brown hike up the Greenlee Trail at Red Rock Canyon Open Space in 2019 in west Colorado Springs. 

Colorado Springs officials have embarked on a first-of-its-kind initiative aimed at inspiring new guardians for the city's heavily trafficked parks and open spaces.

That's in partnership with Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, the Boulder-based nonprofit whose seven principles are widely celebrated. In the Springs, the goal is to bring them closer to the forefront, said Gillian Rossi, park ranger supervisor.

"To turn our ultra users into ultra stewards," she said.

For 2021, Colorado Springs is one of nine locales nationwide listed in that nonprofit's Hot Spot Program, which "identifies areas suffering from severe human-related impacts." Arches National Park is also among the nine. The Leave No Trace organization claims more than 100 Hot Spots have benefited from the program since 2010.

With residents and tourists breaking pandemic-induced cabin fever, Colorado Springs parks, like parks everywhere, saw unprecedented crowds in 2020. The city is fairly unique for its "ultra" masses — members of a metro population that hike, run or ride bikes on trails at least once a day.

"Gyms were closed, so we started seeing new people using parks as gyms to get a workout," Rossi said. "But with that influx of visitors, the parks themselves aren't getting any bigger. So we really need everybody to do their part."

Leave No Trace training continues for city parks staffers and volunteers — days-long courses rooted in science, including psychology. With education in how to approach people about outdoor ethics, "a lot of folks are having that aha moment," Rossi said.

New wayfinding signs are coming to the city's preserves, displaying the seven principles: plan ahead and prepare; travel and camp on durable surfaces; dispose of waste; leave what you find; minimize campfire impacts; respect wildlife; and be considerate of others.

"Even though some of these principles seem like common sense, there are lot of people who have never heard of this stuff," Rossi said. "A lot of the impacts on our parks, they're not due to malintent; they're just due to ignorance."

And that goes for proud outdoor people, too, she said — indeed some of those ultra users. She said the three most common issues noted by Springs rangers could be attributed to locals: dog waste, dogs off-leash and conflicts between people, often between hikers and mountain bikers.

"Honestly, we have the issue with our local population here specifically where some folks feel they have ownership of the property, and that ownership makes them feel like they don't need to abide by the rules," Rossi said. 

Education is the key, she said.

"Everyone wants these properties to be around forever, but the only way they're going to be around forever is if we all do our part in taking care of them, and not feeling entitled like we own them, but recognizing our part in being good stewards."

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