Recently, our family hiked the Continental Divide/Colorado Trail above Maggie’s Gulch outside of Silverton. We saw a very large flock of sheep a few hundred yards off trail that had clearly been on the trail. Excrement was widespread; wildflowers and native grasses trampled. A sole hiker came toward us crying. She told us that 10 minutes earlier, three herding dogs attacked her and she sustained puncture wounds. In between sobs, the visibly shaken woman explained she had hiked the Colorado Trail from Denver over the past month. Although she encountered bears, moose and lightning, nothing was remotely as frightening as the dog attack that she sustained in our own backyard. Inexcusably, the sheepherder never came over to check on the injured hiker, let alone offer any assistance or apology. After offering medical assistance to the hiker, we continued our hike. Fortunately for us, the sheepherder finally got his flock and dogs under control. However, the personal injury and environmental damage was already done.
Upon reporting this incident to the U.S. Forest Service, we learned the hiker had trekked considerably out of her way to Silverton to report it to law enforcement. The incident is currently under investigation. Unfortunately, many people who have hiked or biked in our beautiful backcountry know that aggressive herding-dog behavior and the attendant environmental damage associated with grazing is commonplace. As the Forest Service and BLM hopefully overhaul their grazing policies to bring them into the 21st century by dramatically limiting the number and location of grazing animals, charging market lease rates, etc., we hope they remember this is the public’s land. It should not be used for the benefit of a few agricultural leaseholders to the detriment of thousands of other users.
Dave and Michele Harris