Behind the Springs: "Leave no trace"

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What does it mean to “leave no trace”? And why does it matter? Hear from one of our city’s awesome park rangers about keeping our favorite parks, trails and open spaces in top shape. She’ll also reveal a famous figure behind this effort, specifically at the Manitou Incline.

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Episode Transcript

This transcript has been automatically generated.

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Colorado Springs,

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nearly 500,000 people,

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Olympic city

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USA Garden of the Gods

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Pikes Peak,

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it's a growing city,

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our local government has a lot of employees. What exactly do they do? How does it impact my life?

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This is where you find out behind the springs and inside look at your local government.

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to a fun edition of Behind the springs. If you enjoy our trails and open space in Colorado Springs, and really who doesn't, you may have heard the phrase Leave No Trace. It basically means to leave the space the way you found it. And it's a pretty simple idea. But it makes a huge difference. And there may be parts of it that you don't know about. So we're going to talk about that today. And also get to know one of the city employees who knows firsthand just how important it is. So Julian Rossi, welcome to the podcast. You are a park ranger with our trails, open space and parks program which is also known as tops. And you are our park ranger supervisor. So I will get right to the Leave No Trace as soon as we can. But tell us your story and how you came to be in the position. You are.

Unknown Speaker  1:14  
Definitely I think it's a super fun story. I went to undergrad in Arkansas. I'm originally from Ohio. Our camp our family does not have a strong outdoor recreation background. I really when I was younger, we tried to go camping once and it started raining. So we've turned everyone around. And I have five siblings. So that was quite the the effort to go back home. But I went to school in Arkansas and after I graduated, I started working with Arkansas State Parks, which I still think is the best state park system in the country. They're amazing. Arkansas is beautiful. And I was a park interpreter. And so while working there, I started learning about Leave No Trace. I'd never heard about it ever before that and this is after undergrad. So it's a little bit embarrassing to say. But through that I learned that I have a love for public speaking public outreach, environmental education, and I was really happy. But I started craving to go back to school. I never thought I would say that after undergrad but I looked for master's degrees. And I found one at Western State Colorado University, which is in gunnison, Colorado. So I signed up for their masters of environmental management program. And we ended up moving out to Colorado. I'd never been here before. It's beautiful. I love the climate. And my master's project actually dealt with environmental stewardship and answering the question, does environmental stewardship and education surrounding it actually work? Does it actually change people's behaviors? So I worked with a group called mountain manners were a stewardship initiative located in the Gunnison watershed Valley. So we worked in Crested Butte with the maroon bells wilderness with the Crested Butte wildflower festival, and basically just spent a couple of summers talking to people and encouraging people to make positive choices when they're recreating so recreating responsibly. And that's when I really started getting involved with Leave No Trace as an organization and also trying to bring it back to the work that I do. So we moved to Colorado Springs when my husband got a job with the US Forest Service. He works in the pike National Forest, which keeps him busy every single day.

Unknown Speaker  3:19  
Guys are both

Unknown Speaker  3:20  
outdoor lovers, right? Yes, absolutely. And then I fell in line with the city. So I started with the city of Colorado Springs, in November of 2018, as an education technician, so very similar to a park interpreter. You're going out into the properties, you're talking with people, you're talking with school groups, and eventually I became a park ranger with the city. And now I'm the park ranger supervisor for our trails, open space and parks staff who are amazing. And we cover all the tops properties and in the city of Colorado Springs.

Unknown Speaker  3:50  
And how many folks do you have on your team?

Unknown Speaker  3:52  
We have six full time Rangers and a seasonal staff of 18. Okay, so

Unknown Speaker  3:57  
that means when summertime, that means coming up here, right? You're going to hire some seasonal staff?

Unknown Speaker  4:03  
Yeah, absolutely. We're excited to onboard 12 new folks in the middle of April. So this month.

Unknown Speaker  4:09  
Oh, that's great. Okay. Well, we're glad we have you in Colorado Springs and for the city of Colorado Springs. And your work continues with Leave No Trace here. And I think people hear that and they think Leave No Trace. Yeah, got it. I won't, you know, throw my water bottle down or leave my trash. But leave no trace is bigger than that.

Unknown Speaker  4:26  
Leave No Trace is definitely bigger than that. And you're definitely right. The number one thing people attribute the term Leave No Trace to is not littering. Right, which

Unknown Speaker  4:36  
is a great one.

Unknown Speaker  4:37  
Yeah, it is. It's it's definitely important. But there's actually seven different principles that accompany the Leave No Trace motto. So, for example, Principle number one is plan ahead and prepare. If you're not planned and prepared for your trip, you're more likely to leave a bigger impact than if you are prepared. So for example, we see that a lot in North Cheyenne Canyon. When folks are super excited to hike the Seven Bridges trail, they've wrote about it online, they show up in the middle of a Saturday and there's nowhere to park. And they don't have a plan B. So that's when panic ensues, especially if you're a planner like me. If you get to your destination, and you're not able to do what you wanted to do, it can cause some pretty strong feelings. So just making sure you're prepared, you have that plan B, it really helps to minimize impact, because overcrowding in the parks is a real thing. And we definitely started seeing that last March, when we were getting Fourth of July numbers in late spring. It was very weird

Unknown Speaker  5:35  
during the stay at home. Yeah, but all the parks and trails and open spaces were still open. And so people were taking advantage of that, which is great. But the but you're right, it gets really crowded. And the great thing about Colorado Springs is it's it is pretty easy to have a plan B Right, right. I mean, there are lots of parks surrounding maybe that spot that you initially wanted to go to, but it's being aware of that. So planning ahead.

Unknown Speaker  5:58  
Yeah, definitely knowing where to go. And we have so many hidden gems within the city. Even within the tops program, we have so many properties that I feel aren't explored as much as they could be like bluestem prairie open space out east, it's my favorite open space. It's beautiful. It's really peaceful. There's dozens and dozens of bird species that you're not going to see anywhere else in the springs, because it is one of our only native prairie ecosystems left. So just doing some research and finding the places that aren't the first trail you see when you Google Colorado Springs hiking trails,

Unknown Speaker  6:28  
right? You don't have to go straight to North Cheyenne Canyon or garden to the gods are absolute. And those are the places that fill up the quickest they do, um, especially as we get into the summer months. So what is the typical day look like for you? And or your team, the park rangers that are out there, what are you all doing on a daily basis, when it comes to instilling this, Leave No Trace mentality, but also just in general?

Unknown Speaker  6:53  
Well, in general, I will tell you, there is no such thing as a typical day for a park ranger and most park staff. But our number one responsibility that our park staff have when they arrive to work is making sure that trail heads are ready to go for the day. So we do rounds every morning, we pull trash, we make sure everything is safe for when the park visitors start to use the parks. And trailheads are the first thing people see when they get to a property. So it's that first impression. So making sure that people's first impression of a property is a positive one really sets the tone for the rest of their visit. And we want everyone to have a positive experience when they're on the trails. And that way, they form a connection with that natural area and are more inclined to take care of it and have that feeling of responsibility. So all of our park rangers and park staff regardless of if whether they're maintenance technician, or one of our trail technicians, or biological technicians, they're all trained as Leave No Trace trainers, which essentially means we're all using the same stewardship language when speaking with park visitors. So we had that uniform stewardship messaging. So our number one thing that we do when we have an interaction, whether it's with someone with a dog off leash, or just someone who has some questions about the park, is we explain the why behind some of our park rules and regulations, and also the why of why they should make an effort to leave no trace.

Unknown Speaker  8:12  
So and what is that? Why Why is it so important to leave no trace? Because it is one of those things that's a collective a collective effort. And people think, Oh, it's, it's just me, how big of a difference Am I going to make?

Unknown Speaker  8:25  
Oh, wow, a huge difference. So we hear that a lot. Well, it's just one pile of dog waste, or Well, it's just one piece of area of grass that I'm parking on. What's the big deal. It's a huge deal, especially in Colorado Springs. So we have a limited number of parks and open spaces and trails, but we have a growing number of park visitors. So even without the increase in park visitation due to the stay at home order last year, we have people moving to the springs every single day who are excited to go play outside. So while the parks are staying the same size, the amount of visitors are increasing. So we really can't afford to have anyone not doing their best to recreate responsibly when they're out there and not turn that one pile of dog waste into 300 piles of dog waste.

Unknown Speaker  9:11  
everyone loses. everyone loses. right sorry, you were gonna say just today. Oh, no,

Unknown Speaker  9:16  
that's okay. But it is really important for everyone to do their part. It's not one individual action that causes these giant impacts. It's everyone repeating that action. And especially for our locals it's really up to them to set a good example for our out of town visitors because tourists are going to do what they see locals doing. No one wants to look like a tourist. So I think that's really important also to set that example

Unknown Speaker  9:39  
right and when you show up like you said at a nice clean safe trailhead, you're more inclined to keep it that way. Absalon and when you see the locals modeling that behavior, you say, Okay, this is how they do it here. So that's the important thing. And you're right, we have so many people moving in that we want to set an example for the newcomers as well. So what are some other tips that you see? I know there are Very important, but that you see common violations. And that that you often have to approach people and give them the why and talk to them and educate them.

Unknown Speaker  10:10  
So some of our biggest interactions that we have with folks who are not abiding by Park rules or regulations, pets, off leash is a big one, okay? Everyone's dog is the friendliest dog in the world. So of course, it's fine that they're off leash, but it's one dog, it's just my daughter's one dog. So that's a big one that we have folks with their pets off leash, we do have beautiful off leash dog areas, if you do want to take your pet off leash. So we offer that as an alternative. But really, our wildlife are also experiencing more people in the parks. And so they have very specific places where they can find solace and not be stressed out wildlife, they get stressed really easily. So if we have a dog off leash running into the scrub oak area that previously the deer and whatever else what other whatever other animals usually find peace in that area, they're scared away, their stress level goes up, and they're, they're less likely to reproduce, and they're less likely to have a great stress free life. So that's a big thing, the respect wildlife piece, and that falls into Leave No Trace as well. So that and also it's really hard to clean up after your pet if you don't know where they went to the bathroom if they're a leash. Right. So that's something we have a larger issue with in Stratton open space, I'd say it's one of our more notorious parks for that. Okay, but other issues that we have are folks using on designated trails. So these are sometimes called social trails, or rogue trails, but they're any trail that was not designed by the city and put there in a sustainable manner. And you can usually tell, right, I mean, you can usually tell when you're seeing an end designated trail or somebody

Unknown Speaker  11:47  
else went here, so it's fine if I go here, too, but you exactly you have a feeling usually when you go on that trail that it is a road trail,

Unknown Speaker  11:54  
yes. So an easy way to spot a road trail is, if it's a shortcut, if it's getting you from A to B a little bit faster, it's probably not a designated trail, and you're probably leaving the designated trail to use that trail just to shortcut your hike by a few meters.

Unknown Speaker  12:09  
Okay. And then you you brought up a good point to have, you know, stay on the designated trail, but also before you even get on the trail stay in the designated parking area. Right. So you have people who are sometimes just making up their own extra space, we do.

Unknown Speaker  12:23  
Yes, so we have a lot of park visitors actually we did last summer, who saw the grass is a wonderful option to park. But we're trying to enforce that. If the parking lot is full, the park is full. And you currently do need to respect other visitors space and respect that natural area and find somewhere else to hike where parking spots are available. Right there is room for you in the park. But we have had we call it creative parking by our visitors. And we actually had two of our Rangers last summer at Wesley Herman and Carolyn Ogg doll, who came up with the idea of kind of blocking those natural areas that people were parking on with boulders that Red Rock Canyon open space. So if you visit the picnic lot, at the it's the main entrance of Red Rock, you'll see their their idea, and it's actually worked great. And you can see the grass starting to grow back. And some of our other native native vegetation is coming back as well.

Unknown Speaker  13:16  
That's great, because that's what you're what they're hurting when they're parking there. So that's a great point. And then talk to me a little bit about trail behavior. And I'm not just talking about packing out your trash and staying on the trail. But you know, just the compassion and consideration you would have for other trail users is that part of Leave No Trace,

Unknown Speaker  13:38  
that's a huge part of Leave No Trace. So principle seven is be considerate of other visitors. And this one's big, because when you're recreating in the outdoors, you're making an impact regardless, but it could be a positive impact or a negative impact. And that impact is on not only the environment, but the other visitors that are there. So you have a huge influence over if someone's going to have a great day on the trail, or if someone's day is going to be ruined on the trail. And that can be through interactions between mountain bikers and hikers. There is some tension there sometimes when some folks don't yield to other people on the trail. So that can cause some tension. But what we try to stress is give people the benefit of the doubt. Most people aren't doing those less than Leave No Trace behaviors out of malice. They're not doing it on purpose to damage the park or to ruin someone's experience. It usually comes from they just don't know. They don't know that it's it's a behavior that they should shouldn't be doing. We see this a lot on some of our trails, when people are playing music, they want to hike to music, but they're not using headphones. And so everyone gets to hear their music and not everyone's into that and it also robs the sounds of nature from what other people are hearing.

Unknown Speaker  14:49  
So what do you recommend people do you know, if they see someone with their dog off leash or they, you know, try to, you know, approach that person in a considerate way. And then if that doesn't work, that's what you all are there for. Correct? Yeah. In those situations that maybe they can't resolve it,

Unknown Speaker  15:08  
right. So we always stress to come at people from a point of positivity, not criticism. Again, give them the benefit of the doubt, they might just not know. So Introduce yourself be friendly. First and foremost, no one really is comfortable if someone walks up to them angrily. And just let them explain that, you know, it's a great idea to have your dog on leash at this park. There's a lot of wildlife here. Actually, in Red Rock Canyon, we have had a moose that was spotted last fall, I was actually driving up to go leaf peeping outside of Colorado Springs, and I looked over, and I saw a juvenile bull moose hanging around the picnic law at Red Rock Canyon. super great to see. But moose are very, very dangerous, especially for dogs. So just reminding folks that it's for the safety of your dog and for other visitors, that you keep your dog on a leash. And then offering those alternatives, you know, there is an off leash dog park, just about a half a mile up the trail, or there is an award winning off leash dog park, down at Bear Creek site, explaining the why. And also giving alternatives we found is a really successful approach when people are doing less than Leave No Trace behaviors out on the trail.

Unknown Speaker  16:18  
And is there a way that you encourage people to report those behaviors? Or do you or to you on site or otherwise? Or do you really just encourage them to do what you just said and approach that person and try to resolve the situation?

Unknown Speaker  16:32  
That's a good question. I guess I wouldn't encourage everyone to try to go and correct those behaviors. That is what our parts, right, your job is.

Unknown Speaker  16:40  
Okay, they're

Unknown Speaker  16:41  
out there and patrolling. And now that we do have six going on seven full time Park Rangers, we do have an increased presence in the park, as well as all of our other seasonal staff. They're also trained in speaking with our visitors and talking with them about the why behind the park rules and regulations. So that's what we, our goal is to get our park rangers to talk to as many people as possible when they're out on the trails.

Unknown Speaker  17:04  
Okay, that's great. And so you and I recently worked with a well known athlete to promote some of the Leave No Trace principles. So tell me a little bit about that, because we're going to launch that we're going to put that out on social media today. So I encourage you if you're not already following the city of CEOs, or our parks department on social media, to do so today, to see that and some of the other great information they have just those tips that you think you know, but they're good reminders, and they're good things to keep in mind as you head out for your next adventure with your family with your friends. And you can kind of be the educator in your group, right and educate them on some of these things. But we thought it would be fun to have someone that most people know kind of give us you know, give us a reminder.

Unknown Speaker  17:48  
I never thought I would be saying this Jen. But we are working with Apollo Anton Ohno who is a former Olympian gold medalist 2000 to 2006 2010 Winter Olympics speedskater. He's helping us promote stewardship on the Manitou incline because he loves the incline.

Unknown Speaker  18:05  
Right. He used it as his training grounds. I know for many years, and comes back in normal years. I don't think he's made it back since the pandemic began, but has come back in very often, because he loves Colorado Springs. So aren't we lucky to have that spokesperson?

Unknown Speaker  18:23  
Definitely. Yeah, I found out that Apollo went to UCCS, which was awesome. And he also trained in Colorado Springs while he was training for the Winter Olympics previously, and the incline was a staple in his training. He used to ride his bike from the Olympic Training Center to the incline, hike it multiple times and then ride his bike back. I cannot imagine. Yeah,

Unknown Speaker  18:46  
that is great. So he gave us a wonderful message that will be out there on social media, and talk a little bit about the incline because it is a little unique.

Unknown Speaker  18:56  
Yes, to put it lightly, the incline is a unique trail. So the Manitou incline, last spring actually was closed due to an emergency mandate from the city of Manitou Springs. And the way that we reopened it was by implementing a reservation system and that launched last August. And what it does is it limits the amount of people on the incline at one time in an attempt to social distance people and also have a way to do contact tracing if an event ever occurred. The incline is 2000 feet of elevation gain within about a mile over 2700 steps, each of which are maintained by our awesome top staff. Madison petty is our point of contact park ranger for the incline and the incline. It's really hard for me to describe it. It's a crazy trail it is but the reservation system is unique but also so helpful, right in what you all are trying to accomplish. In addition to the social distancing and spacing it does, I would imagine help a bit with the maintenance and the upkeep of the trail as well. It does eliminate the amount of People who can access the incline each day, it does allow our park rangers to check that reservation system, see when the best times for them to go in and do maintenance would be instead of having to contend with hundreds of people at a time on the incline, so those limitations have helped our staff. It's also great to see where everyone's coming from. We do collect zipcode data, that's the only data we collect from this. And people are coming from around the world just to hike the incline, which we knew before, but now we know where they're coming from, which is really cool.

Unknown Speaker  20:29  
That is really exciting. And, and, and I think, you know, people get a little confused because you mentioned Manitou Springs, and it's in Manitou Springs. But can you just talk about what our city's role is? In the incline? We do manage it, even though it's not in our city? Yes.

Unknown Speaker  20:45  
So the city of Colorado Springs does the maintenance and management of the incline, it is located in Manitou Springs, so we have to maintain that strong partnership and communication with the city of Manitou Springs, especially in regards to things like parking, which is an issue in Manitou. That's one of their big issues. And so we're maintaining the trail. we're promoting safety on the trail with the reservation system. Also, because people do have to read about the trail before signing up. We've limited the amount of rescues that have had to take place on the trail because people are better prepared after having to read just a little bit of information about the trail itself. So I think that's really great that we've lowered the amount of injuries we've had on that trail this year.

Unknown Speaker  21:27  
That's wonderful. And getting that Leave No Trace mentality before they even before they even get to the trail, which is great. Yeah. So that plan ahead, preparedness. Okay, so yes, check our social media for that exciting announcement. We're really honored to be backed by someone who has done the incline so many times and appreciates our parks system. So thank you to Apollo. Oh, no. And what else do we need to leave people with? Or what thoughts Would you like to leave them with? I hate to put you on the spot. But I always want to ask park rangers what their favorite trailer park are open spaces. I know you said bluestem is one of yours. Do you have any favorites that stand out for you?

Unknown Speaker  22:05  
I really enjoy the Palmer loop. I like longer trails and getting to do that six mile loop, which is pretty challenging. I'm still acclimating to. I've been here a few years. So I love the Palmer loop. Like I mentioned before, bluestem prairie open space is one of my favorite open spaces. Blodgett open spaces great for wild flowers in the spring. So I'm excited to go out and hike in a couple of weeks, I think we'll be getting near peak wildflower season on Blodgett. And they're just beautiful. It's like a rainbow out there.

Unknown Speaker  22:33  
Oh, that's a great tip. Okay, and definitely for people to remember to check those lesser known parks and trails so that they can have a couple backup plans or just explore a whole new place, right? Yeah,

Unknown Speaker  22:47  
I would say the most important thing you can pack with you on a day hike. It's important to bring water, it's important to bring your map but bring a plan B, make sure you know where you're going to go. If your park is full. So if the parking lot is full, the park is full, you need to find somewhere else to hike and enjoy your day. And here there's there's dozens of places to go. So like don't

Unknown Speaker  23:06  
just turn around if it's raining with your five kids. Exactly. Don't just do that. Go have a plan B right, check the weather and now you can call your family and say okay, everybody have a plan B, are they are they outdoor enthusiasts now that you have your influence on the family are not really they're still

Unknown Speaker  23:24  
there getting there. I tried to bring them hiking with me whenever they visit. So they're coming they're coming to visit? That's a start. Definitely. So we'll try to do the incline.

Unknown Speaker  23:33  
Yeah, we'll see how it goes. We'll make a reservation and hike up that trail. And that is what's so true is we have a little something for everyone for all levels for all abilities for all groups of people. And we're just so lucky that you are doing such a good job, maintaining it all. Thank you. We appreciate it. Well, thanks for your time. I appreciate it and look for Apollo Ono, because his words are even more powerful than mine and Jillian's and he's got a great message for you about the Manitou incline. Colorado Slash parks is a great place to go to explore our park system. So we encourage you to do that as well as to be with us on social media. So thank you again for listening to behind the springs. Thanks, Julian.

Unknown Speaker  24:14  
Thank you

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