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Saturday December 7th 2019

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That's what she said

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Embracing the Night (and the Ground)


By

Concerning the recent community discussion about closing Boulder Parks and Open Space to night use, I have a few thoughts I’d like to share.

Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks already has a ban on parking in trailhead and other open space lots between midnight and 5 a.m. This prohibition should be sufficient to keep people off the trails during that time, and it’s a whole lot easier to patrol parking lots and look for violators there than to hike all over the open space system looking for wandering miscreants. I’m guessing the biggest threat after 11 PM is from beer parties (formerly called “woodsies”), but I think these should be pretty easy to locate if there are folks out patrolling. I certainly support closing habitat conservation areas to human use during the night, as these are the only areas we have left that are primarily devoted to wildlife habitat.

Camping at the Mosel River in Germany (istock.com)

Second, since I first arrived in Boulder as a poor graduate student/public school teacher in 1970, I’ve always thought our community’s greatest shortcoming was an absence of public camping facilities. I can camp legally closer to London or Chicago than I can to Boulder. In Nebraska, I can camp legally and often for free within 10 miles of virtually any town or city, including Lincoln and Omaha. Think about it. Our nearest public campgrounds in the mountains are at least 45 minutes away from town (by car that is, more like 24 hours by foot) at Golden Gate Canyon State Park, Kelly-Dahl, Buckingham Park, and Rainbow Lakes. And you can’t even camp in the national forests in Boulder Canyon or Lefthand Canyon. One of the first things you see when you drive up Boulder Canyon is an unfriendly-appearing signs saying “No Camping Next 18 Miles.”

There is a campground at the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont and a small one at Meadow Park in Lyons, but nothing, really, in the foothills and mountains west of Boulder.  We need to construct an in-town campground to accommodate homeless people and several smaller, appealing (meaning a handful of dispersed sites in the woods) close-to-town campgrounds to accommodate visitors. It’s a shameful situation that makes us look a little like we’re operating a police state.

I’m particularly sensitive to this because I grew up in Northern California where it’s now almost impossible to go camping without a credit card (I’m not making this up). I believe that a society that deprives humans of the innate right to sleep unencumbered on the green Earth is a pretty pathetic society. Blame it on overpopulation if you will, but if they can accommodate campers throughout Europe, we should be able to do so in relatively uncrowded Boulder County.

One reason this shortcoming has not been rectified is because no local agency wants to take on the expense and responsibility of building and maintaining campgrounds. This is perfectly understandable. What we would need to do is get all the agencies together (especially Boulder City Council, the Boulder County Commissioners, and the Arapaho National Forest) to come up with a blueprint for creating small, attractive, and reasonably secluded campgrounds close to Boulder. As to the free public campground within Boulder, that would require a thoughtful community process, directed by Boulder City Council.

Finally, one of the sad things of living at this time is that most of us have lost contact with the most magical and spiritually powerful part of the 24-hour cycle: nighttime. We should be encouraging people to reconnect with the darkness, responsibly, not banning them from doing so. If we want to ban something, how about banning all external lighting and all non-emergency machinery (including cars, except for necessary commuting, and airplanes) from midnight to 5 a.m.?

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