There is something called the “knucklehead factor” in the algorithm of public land management.
While never spoken of publicly, federal land managers talk among themselves about the challenges of dealing not just with visitors who maybe are not aware of rules, but also with the ones who are irresponsible and dangerous.
And lately, as record-setting numbers of Coloradans flood public lands, the “knucklehead factor” has grown exponentially. That means coals abandoned in fresh fire pits. Shooting in the dark. Pushing OHVs beyond trails. Walking on that log at Hanging Lake. Breaking down gates and just a general disregard for rules, signs and other humans.
They are in the minority, those knuckleheads. But they are stressing public lands already feeling the pressure of masses urged to look to the “vast, great outdoors” as an escape from the monotony of quarantine and the stress of pandemic.
“We are seeing normal use patterns multiplied, so we if had bad apples out there they are multiplied now,” says Aaron Mayville, the deputy forest supervisor for the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest.
A couple weekends ago, Mayville’s rangers visited popular Maxwell Falls near Evergreen, which regularly ranks on Front Range listicles of close-in waterfall hikes. The parking lot at the trailhead holds about 40 cars. There were 900 on that Saturday, spilling every which way.
“Every trailhead is seeing that kind of traffic. It’s record use. Fourth of July numbers in April and May,” Mayville says.