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Dispatches : Politics

Conundrum at Conundrum Hot Springs: Are We Loving Them to Death?

Condundrum_mcgoughConundrum Hot Springs party people, mid-August. Photo: Will McGough

By Will McGough, Wake and Wander

Sitting in the nearly 100-degree water, among several naked bathers in the Conundrum Hot Springs near Aspen, Colorado, I looked around at the pine trees and boulders and white clouds over the mountains, the green of the valley below and the tight groups of Aspen trees. It’s not hard to figure out why so many people are willing to walk 8.5 miles to get here.

The secluded location simultaneously relaxes and excites, the booze sipping and joint passing further fueling the overwhelming feelings of freedom that the springs incite. The beauty and brightness of the large valley provoke a free spirit in all its visitors—it’s almost as if nature is calling you to go on, cut loose.

And cut loose they do, both in a good way and a bad way. Uniting with a hundred people in the middle of nowhere seemed to me even more special (and rare) than two days of solitude. But popularity can certainly tear something down in a hurry. Overuse has become a problem in the eyes of the U.S. Forest Service, the increase in human presence degrading the once pristine valley.

Andrew Larson, lead wilderness ranger for the Aspen-Sopris District, told the Aspen Times in May that maintaining the natural conditions at Conundrum is difficult due to the remote location and newfound fame. “We're supposed to provide for a primitive experience,” he said. “A lot of people come up here for a party experience.”

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Vladimir Putin Flies With Endangered Siberian Cranes

Once again, Russian President Vladimir Putin has thrown himself into an obscure outdoor adventure. This time he donned a white suit and goggles before taking off in an ultralight to guide six endangered Siberian Cranes through the air. Andrew E. Kramer's great article for The New York Times explains how the Russian leader's guiding flight fits fairly well into his awkward series of outdoor feats, which include riding a horse shirtless in Siberia and diving underwater to find two ancient Greek urns in the Black Sea (yes, it was staged). The Russian operation migration short hit YouTube on Wednesday.

It was not the only video of Putin released that day that may have led to guffaws. In a major television interview, Putin told RT TV, “I know what’s going on with Pussy Riot, but I am staying out of that.”

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Art Campaign Illustrates the Beauty of Walking

Green_pedestrian_feetImage: DDB Group China

Car sales in China are a wee bit flat right now, but it’s still one of the world’s largest car markets. Congestion in cities is so bad that local governments have begun restricting how many people can drive each day. Despite that, the air quality and traffic remain untenable. Still, the China Environmental Protection Foundation’s campaign to get people out of their cars was an uphill battle at best.

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Can the National Park Service Afford to React to Climate Change?

Delicate_arch_windowDelicate Arch, Arches National Park. Photo: Ryan Dearth

Last year, as part of his Call to Action plan to revise and improve the way our national parks are managed, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis asked a committee of scientists and advisers to the NPS to revisit and rewrite a 1963 report called "Wildlife Management in the National Parks."

Though the 1963 report, penned by the son of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, was groundbreaking as a contribution to wildlife management practices, it was written well before the park system had to address and adopt to climate change, and well before the system gained most of the cultural artifacts and memorials it now holds. Therefore, the report needed a major makeover.

The revised report, written with the help of an 11-member committee that includes a Nobel Laureate and two Presidential Medal of Science recipients, was released on Friday and includes broad recommendations on how the NPS should go about protecting park ecosystems and the cultural treasures they contain. Also published last week was a Washington Post news story entitled “National Parks Face Severe Funding Crunch,” in which Juliet Eilperin described the impact that fiscal belt-tightening has had on the park service in recent years and how the proposed 2013 budget would only worsen the park’s economic health. Some say more cuts will precipitate park closures.

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The Elwha River Is Fit, Once Again, for Kings

Chinook_swimmingChinook salmon. Photo: NWFishers/Flickr

The Elwha Dam is gone. The Glines Canyon Dam is nearly gone. With the dams no longer blocking fish from their migratory route up the river, Chinook (king) and other species of salmon and trout are returning. Salmon fry began hatching above the dams early this spring and now biologists have spotted the first adult Chinooks.

"We knew this was going to happen and as I saw the fish roll, my heart jumped!" Phil Kennedy, lead fisheries technician for the Olympic National Park, said in a statement announcing the return.

He's certainly not alone in his enthusiasm. "If Elwha River ecosystem recovery has a poster child, it is this fish," Seattle Times reporter Lynda Mapes wrote on September 17, 2011. "Bringing back the Elwha River kings, the most storied in Puget Sound, has been a rallying cry for advocates of dam removal for more than a generation."

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