Published in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, May 8, 2019.
In the age of competitive online permitting systems and limited-use restrictions, digital expertise is, bizarrely, becoming an essential outdoor skill.
While recovering from the 12-hour flu on Saturday night, I was participating in one of my daily rituals: refreshing Recreation.gov to see if any permits were available for a few of my favorite multi-day river stretches. I saw a single date become available, but had to let it go. The permit was almost immediately captured by someone else who loves the rivers, knows the system, and has the time to spend staring at a screen.
We all know about the crowds, the trash, the dog poop, the human poop and the wedding decorations left behind. Every resident has a story about some place they used to go to get away from it all, which is now playing host to thousands of people a season — Red Hill, Thompson Divide, Hanging Lake, Conundrum Hot Springs, Smuggler Mountain, Rifle Gap, and the list goes on.
As the quickest and most affordable solution to this visitation “problem,” online reservation systems are popping up all over the country, many in our own backyard.
Online permits seem like a simple solution to a scary problem. But what are the side effects of adding yet another “gate” to accessing popular outdoor places? It means that, quite often, an already elite population is narrowed down yet again.