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Forest Service: Conundrum faces bigger woes than cow carcasses
By Scott Condon, The Aspen Times
ASPEN — The cow carcasses littering the grounds near Conundrum Hot Springs are nothing compared with the bigger issues facing the beautiful valley, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The carcasses are a temporary problem that won't alter the character of the wilderness area, said Andrew Larson, lead wilderness ranger for the Aspen-Sopris District. The bigger problem is the immense popularity of the Conundrum Hot Springs and the affects humans are having on the high-elevation environment.
“Maintaining natural conditions up there is really difficult,” Larson said.
Conundrum has one of the highest use levels of any destination in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Forest Service data shows 830 overnight permits were issued to parties of various sizes hiking in from the Aspen side during 2011. Most of that activity was compressed between mid-June and late September because of snow covering the valley floor.
There were 2,172 individuals covered by those permits. When multiday trips were factored in, they stayed at the hot springs area for a total of 5,700 user days, according to Larson.
The narrow valley is worse for the wear and tear. The Forest Service has limited camping to 18 designated spots relatively close to the hot springs.