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Rainbow Lakes as seen from above. DIspersed camping on U.S. Forest Service property at Rainbow Lakes, along with two other areas in western Boulder County, will not be permitted this year. (Photo by Glenn Cushman)
Rainbow Lakes as seen from above. DIspersed camping on U.S. Forest Service property at Rainbow Lakes, along with two other areas in western Boulder County, will not be permitted this year. (Photo by Glenn Cushman)
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Five dispersed camping sites, including three in Boulder County, will be closed this year while the U.S. Forest Service allows the land to heal and determines whether the areas can be used more sustainably.

Camping along Rainbow Lakes Road, northwest of Nederland, Ceran Saint Vrain, west of Jamestown, and Winiger Ridge, west of Gross Reservoir, will be temporarily closed. The Forest Service has committed to a one-year closure at Rainbow Lakes and Ceran Saint Vrain and a two-year closure at Winiger Ridge.

Visitors last year trampled vegetation, compacted soils with tents, campers and vehicles, built hundreds of new rock campfire rings and impacted municipal water supplies with human waste and trash, according to the Forest Service.

While each site has different circumstances that led to its temporary closure, there is one consistent thread: The Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests last summer experienced a 200% increase in recreation on top of a brutal fire season in which 25% of the forest burned.

“While (dispersed camping) is legal across most of the national forests, it can have a really big impact,” Reid Armstrong, Forest Service spokesperson, said.

People have been camping in undeveloped sites along Rainbow Lakes Road, for example, and doing so close to the North Boulder Creek, the city of Boulder’s watershed, Armstrong said.

Winiger Ridge offers 26 designated campsites with metal fire rings, though people last season pushed closer to the gross Reservoir and created new campsites. During the closure, the Forest Service will explore whether it may want to expand the number of designated campsites at the site.

For Armstrong and Nederland Mayor Kristopher Larsen, fire is one of the primary concerns.

In designated sites, the Forest Service can take a truck out and ensure campfires have been extinguished.

“It’s really hard to do when it’s an area you have to hike into,” Armstrong said.

This isn’t the first time the Forest Service has closed camping destinations. Last year, it worked with Nederland to reconfigure West Magnolia, a dispersed camping site about a mile south of the town.

“They’ve been a very good partner in addressing our concerns with West Mag,” Larsen said.

Most importantly, Armstrong said it’s important for anyone recreating in national forests to research the place they’re going and to know how to use the restroom properly and store food safely. Given the closures and last year’s fires, it’s possible that a place visited last year is no longer open.