By Logan Smith

SAN JUAN COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Restrictions on all forms of recreation in the South Mineral Canyon area, including the uber-popular Ice Lakes Trail, are in the conceptual stages following a “crazy” summer season of hiking and camping.

Usage of the area increased dramatically this year, according to Jed Botsford, recreational staff officer for the Forest Service’s Columbine Ranger District.

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And it showed.

By fall, one of the state’s more cherished trails wore the blemishes of overuse.

(credit: Priscilla Sherman)

Botsford said campers set up their tents “in places we’ve never seen,” like the side of the road.

(credit: Priscilla Sherman)

The trailhead parking lot was dangerously crammed with limited access for emergency vehicles.

Higher up, the remnants of above-treeline campfires were found to contain vintage nails, meaning campers were raiding historic mining structures for wood, Botsford said.

(credit: San Juan Mountains Association)

Botsford himself found an astounding amount of human waste next to the spectacular turquoise waters of Ice Lake.

(credit: San Juan Mountains Association)

It was enough, he said, that his staff — a group that took the job to see natural resources revered — was “fried” at the end of season.

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“Crazy, crazy, crazy,” Botsford said.

(credit: San Juan Mountains Association)

He said the pandemic is at least partly to blame for the crush.

“Yes, for sure. They weren’t going to concerts, they weren’t going to ballgames, they weren’t going to weddings….which is great. Everyone should enjoy their public lands. But this was off the charts.”

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A permit system is now being considered as part of the solution, Botsford said. Details are few at this early stage, but the goal is to clear: Reduce the numbers.

Prior to this year, the trail would see 200 users in a normal day, Botsford said. The most in one day this year more than tripled that figure.

The Labor Day Weekend was especially crowded. Nearly 2,000 hikers and 215 overnight backpackers set foot on the trail, as counted by the San Juan Mountains Association.

Island Lake, a part of the Ice Lake Basin. (credit: CBS)

“The numbers are just continuing to escalate out there,” San Juan County Sheriff Bruce Conrad told the Durango Herald. “It’s out of hand.”

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The Ice Lakes Trail is nine miles in length, round trip, and is located west of Silverton.

Logan Smith