Keeping open spaces from being ‘loved to death’

JCOS, CPW looking for solutions as people flock to parks in record numbers

Deb Hurley Brobst
dbrobst@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 6/30/21

Jefferson County and Colorado Parks and Wildlife are looking for ways to educate visitors to help them stop loving to death area parks and open space. Officials at a town hall meeting on June 26 …

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Keeping open spaces from being ‘loved to death’

JCOS, CPW looking for solutions as people flock to parks in record numbers

Posted

Jefferson County and Colorado Parks and Wildlife are looking for ways to educate visitors to help them stop loving to death area parks and open space.

Officials at a town hall meeting on June 26 discussed more signage and additional training to help visitors understand what they need to do to prepare to be outside and to respect the environment. They want to get park and open space visitors to have the mindset that they are visitors in someone else’s home.

“What we are trying to do,” said Tom Hoby, Jeffco Open Space’s executive director, “is get across to people the whole idea that conservation is a team effort. It’s not about just the staff and the volunteers. It’s the staff, the volunteers, the visitors and neighbors all working together. We need people to do the right thing and give them the information to do that.”

Hoby and Zach Taylor, Staunton State Park’s manager, said the number of visitors to the outdoor spaces increased by more than 50 percent since 2019, and many were first-time visitors who didn’t always understand preparation and protocols in the parks.

Taylor said there were days last spring and summer when Staunton State Park hit its visitor capacity by 9 a.m.

Preparing for the experience

“More and more, people are not knowing before they go,” Hoby told about 15 area residents at an outdoor town hall hosted by Jeffco Commissioners Lesley Dahlkemper and Andy Kerr, and state Sen. Tammy Story and state Rep. Lisa Cutter. The group gathered at the pavilion at Hiwan Heritage Park, which is the smallest of Jeffco Open Space’s 27 parks.

Taylor said he sees what staff members call “flip-floppers,” people who wear flip-flops to go on difficult hikes.

“They are coming without water, without food, without resources, and they are trying to do a 12-mile hike,” he said.

Hoby said in 2011, Jeffco Open Space did a countywide resident survey, learning that most people got information about the parks they were visiting when they arrived at the parks.

“That means people aren’t understanding how to be prepared, what’s available, whether to bring their dog and what important things they need to have with them,” Hoby said.

Making changes

The survey results led JCOS to do more work to get information and maps to would-be visitors, more robust websites and a social media presence.

There are five steps to an outdoor experience: planning, travel to the destination, the experience, travel from the destination and recollection of the experience.

“The first one is really important to make the other ones meaningful,” Hoby said.

Ill-prepared people tend to need more help, so they put first responders at risk, he added.

In the short term, Hoby said trailheads and parking areas were expanded in places where it was possible, and parks and open space used rolling closures at trailheads that were too full.

Those at the meeting suggested signage with a color scheme or some other easy-to-understand method to make it easy to determine whether trails are easy, moderate or difficult.

Taylor said state parks are using drawings to provide visitors with information rather than using a many-word explanation that people might not read.

“We’re going to see if that will work better,” Taylor said.

Heroes during the pandemic

Both lauded the parks employees and volunteers who worked through the pandemic to provide outdoor experiences for visitors.

“These frontline workers were able to keep parks open,” Hoby said, “for people’s health, fitness and mental wellbeing. For the lion’s share of the pandemic, we were the only game in town. … They are definitely among the heroes of the pandemic.”

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