The group wants recreation to be mastered in Maroon Bells before the area is loved to death

Maroon Lake reflects the clouds hanging over the Maroon Bells on July 22, 2021.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times

After years of applying temporary solutions to try to reduce overcrowding in the Maroon Bells Scenic Area, a consortium of local custodians are determined to come up with a comprehensive management plan.

Pitkin County is partnering with the City of Aspen, the U.S. Forest Service, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association to engage the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center to develop a management plan.

Various management tools have been put in place in recent years to manage hordes and protect natural resources near the Maroon Bells. A reservation system has been set up during the pandemic for shuttles traveling between the Aspen Highlands base area and Maroon Lake. Reservations are also required for parking. Traffic has been restricted on Maroon Creek Road for over 40 years.

Further restrictions are already in the works. The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District wants to set up a pricing and reservation system for backpackers on the popular Four Pass Loop and other hotspots in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. The scenic area is the gateway to wilderness. A proposal of manage e-bike travel on Maroon Creek Road will be unveiled later this month.

But a comprehensive plan is needed rather than a piecemeal approach, Pitkin County public works director Brian Pettet told county commissioners last week.

“This area is seeing unprecedented usage these days, and we need to reconsider how we allow people access to the Bells and what they do once they’re there,” Pettet said during the interview. Wednesday’s BOCC meeting.

The study area will begin at the Highway 82 roundabout and include the length of Maroon Creek Road. The boundaries of the Maroon Bells Scenic Area are loosely defined by the Forest Service. It includes the “hardened areas” around Maroon Lake, according to spokesman David Boyd. This includes parking lots, trails, picnic areas and campgrounds.

“This area is seeing unprecedented usage these days and we need to reconsider how we allow people to access the bells and what they do once they are there.” — Brian Pettet, Pitkin County

Pettet told commissioners the study would include some of the backcountry wilderness terrain beyond Maroon Lake, potentially including trails to West Maroon Pass to the south and Buckskin Pass to the north.

The Volpe Center was hired because of its expertise in multi-model transportation. The agency, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was established in 1970 and stands as a leader in transportation systems, analysis, technology and innovation.

The center’s outline for its Maroon Bells project said it would come up with a plan that “will address the impacts of increased visitation by identifying sustainable levels of access to the Maroon Bells scenic area while considering economic impacts premises and other impacts on the community”.

Peggy Jo Trish assists visitors at Maroon Bells Lake in July 2021.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

It will collect and analyze data on past, current and projected recreational uses of the area. It will look at everything from backpacking, mountaineering, backpacking, biking, camping, fishing, hunting, photography, environmental education, and special events.

“Frequency at the Maroon Bells Scenic Area has increased steadily over the past 10 years, with no decrease in ridership occurring,” the project says. “If left unmanaged, as has been the case in recent years, increased visitation can degrade natural resources and the environment, health and safety, and the visitor experience.”

Volpe’s plan is supposed to be ready by December 2023. It will cost $225,000, with consortium members splitting the expense.

A group of e-bikers stop in the middle of Maroon Creek Road on their way to the Maroon Bells day use area last summer. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

In the shorter term, county commissioners want an assessment of how the shuttle and parking reservation system is working. Reservations opened for the summer on April 11 and were quickly snatched up.

“If you wanted to visit the Maroon Bells (Scenic Area) this summer, as we find out, it’s tough,” commissioner Greg Poschman said. “It’s difficult to take a bus. Parking is difficult. It’s hard to get there. »

Commissioner Patti Clapper said she would like an analysis to see if rumors that hotel concierges are booking large blocks of reservations are true.

Last summer, two Forest Service officials gave the Aspen Times different and conflicting answers when asked whether or not tourist accommodation operators were monopolizing reservations for their guests at the expense of private individuals. Pettet told commissioners he would try to get an assessment of how the reservation system was working.

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