Boulder Canyon Faces a Serious #2 Problem
By Erin DeMarco and Emma Walker, AAC Conservation and Advocacy Interns
Boulder, Colorado attracts climbers from all over the country and it’s easy to understand why: when world-class climbing is in your backyard, it’s too hard to leave. Just minutes from downtown Boulder are two of the most heavily used climbing areas in Colorado: Boulder Canyon and Eldorado Canyon. With its high concentration of outdoor enthusiasts, Boulder has earned a reputation for its commitment to the environment. It seems logical that Leave No Trace principles would fit right into the city’s charter. But they haven’t.
While climbers are generally good about packing out litter, packing out human waste isn’t standard practice. Without toilet facilities available at crags around the Boulder area, the Boulder Climbing Community recognized that improper human waste disposal posed a problem. To address the issue, the BCC applied for a Cornerstone Conservation Grant from the AAC to work toward a solution. “Most climbers are still new to the ‘waste bag/pack-it-out’ concept and simply ‘do it on the ground’,” wrote Roger Briggs in the BCC’s grant application, “Left unmitigated, the resulting human waste poses health risks and degrades soil and water quality.” He was right. Left unmitigated, poor human waste disposal practices posed a risk to Boulder’s green reputation and status as a premier climbing destination.
The problem of human waste disposal at various crags is only complicated further by the various land management agencies that own the areas; often, climbers aren’t sure whether they’re climbing in a state park, on U.S. Forest Service land, or on county open space. This often leads to inconsistencies in human waste management, a problem the BCC hoped to alleviate by providing human waste bag dispensers and signage. They also planned on placing signage at heavily used crags to eliminate social trails by establishing well-marked, sustainable approach and descent routes. Roger Briggs hoped the installation of bag dispensers and signs would be educational as well; he doubted that many climbers were even aware of the problem they were helping to create.
The BCC was awarded Cornerstone Grant funds in October 2011 to get started on their project, and despite slow going due to the many land management agencies involved, as of September 2012, the BCC had built five sturdy, steel dispenser boxes for Restop2 human waste bags and installed them around the area. Their Cornerstone funds paid for the cost of the building materials, boxes, signs, paint, and mounting hardware, as well as several hundred bags.
Three dispensers were placed in Eldorado Canyon in the summer of 2012—at Rincon, the West Ridge, and Redgarden Wall. These dispensers were monitored and stocked by Eldorado Canyon State Park resource technician Mike McHugh, who estimates that over 100 bags have been used by climbers since their installation. Roger Briggs speculates that some climbers might take multiple bags “just in case,” but he says that’s okay.
A fourth box was placed in Boulder Canyon, in the Bowling Alley area, in August 2012. About 25 bags have been dispensed from it so far, Briggs estimates, and the BCC has requested the City of Boulder move it to a place with more user traffic. The fifth box was placed near the Satellite Boulders below the Third Flatiron, and is the most popular, heavily used dispenser.
Thanks to a team of dedicated volunteers at the BCC, the bags have been consistently replenished and the project is going very well. Briggs also pointed out that another unintended benefit of the project was that it has been “a nice collaboration” between the BCC, Eldorado Canyon State Park, Boulder County Open Space, and City of Boulder Open Space. “I think the AAC can be very proud of the contribution this has made,” says Briggs.
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