A large increase in visitors last year has prompted new strategies to keep people safe and minimize impact on land and animals.

When Mount Evans re-opens early next month, visitors will be allowed in via a timed-entry process being developed by forest service officials. The same goes for Brainard Lake, which is tentatively expected to open on June 11.

Forest Service officials are expecting another very busy recreation season amid the ongoing pandemic, according to an announcement on the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland website. Outdoor recreation across Colorado's northern Front Range increased 200% last year, with many first-time visitors seeking an escape from the constraints of social distancing, officials said. However, the increase in visitors resulted in long lines and increased wait times at welcome stations, congestion at trailhead parking areas and cars parked unsafely along county roads, and lasting impact on land and wildlife.

The timed-entry system will be implemented alongside other strategies, including the online sale of passes to the most popular developed recreation areas and shifting some of the most visited areas to day-use only with hopes of keeping visitors safe while protecting wildlife, water, and forests, according to the announcement.

“For outdoor recreationists, the most important message this year is to ‘Know Before You Go,’" said Recreation Program Manager Erich Roeber. “Just like you might plan a family vacation or research a product before purchasing, public lands visitors really need to do their homework this year before they head out on an adventure. Otherwise, they might show up somewhere and realize they needed to buy a pass in advance, or book a reservation, or that they can’t camp in the same exact place where they camped last year.”

The timed-entry process is still being developed, but pass sales will take place online at Recreation.gov beginning in late May. 

Forest managers noted they are also working to help the land heal from an increase in roadside campsites being set up outside developed campgrounds last year. These rogue campsites damaged resources and vegetation and left behind rock fire rings, human waste, and trash. Several of these areas will be designated as day-use only to give the areas a chance to recover, noted forest officials.

In addition, the forest is working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to develop food storage requirements for visitors in an attempt to reduce the number of encounters with bears and other wildlife at campsites. The Forest Service also will be working to help the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests recover after wildfires burned 25% of their total area last year. Burned areas are likely to remain off-limits to the public until road and trail stabilization needs are addressed. The public is urged to be cautious with all potential sources of ignition this year regardless of fire restrictions.

Visit the forest's Know Before You Go resources page for more information.

Let's be kind to our forests. If you have any other tips to help preserve the parks this summer, leave them in the comments.