The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District lost between $20,000 and $30,000 in revenue from the Maroon Bells Scenic Area because of the 16-day U.S. government shutdown, according to White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams.
The agency lost out on fees that typically would be charged to private vehicles and fees at the campgrounds in Maroon Valley.
The Forest Service collected $231,364 in various fees from at Maroon Bells in 2012, the latest statistics available. Vehicles are charged $10 to drive to the Maroon Lake parking lot, though the hours are limited. Part of the fare that bus passengers pay also goes to the Forest Service.
The government shutdown came at a time when Maroon Valley is typically crawling with leaf peepers. The road was temporarily blocked lower in the valley. The gate was moved closer to Maroon Lake as the shutdown dragged on, but the Forest Service didn’t collect the fee at its welcome station since employees were furloughed.
Maroon Bells is one of the places where the Forest Service can collect fees and use the revenues to enhance and operate its facilities rather than return them to the national treasury. That means the money lost this year won’t be available for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District to use next year.
“It’s a bummer. It’s a big bummer,” Fitzwilliams said.
The funds collected are plowed back into operations and maintenance at Maroon Bells and in surrounding national forest lands for various projects. The funds will be used next summer to make sure there is adequate staffing at the popular destination, Fitzwilliams said. Funds will be deferred for maintenance and capital improvements as a direct result of loss of revenues, he said.
The loss of the fees is particularly bad since the agency’s regular budget will likely shrink by about 5 percent, according to Fitzwilliams.
Elsewhere in the public lands around Aspen, the Forest Service lost revenues when its concessionaire of campgrounds closed some spots earlier than planned. Some campgrounds were already closing for the fall and winter when the shutdown hit. Some spaces in larger campgrounds — such as Chapman in the Fryingpan Valley and Bogan Flats in the Crystal Valley — were scheduled to remain open well into hunting season. Instead, the concessionaire closed all spaces due to the shutdown, Fitzwilliams said.
Routine Forest Service functions such as reviews of projects by permit holders like ski areas also were placed on hold because of the shutdown. The Forest Service also was forced to put its own projects on temporary hold.
“We lost three weeks that we can’t make up,” Fitzwilliams said. “My bosses don’t expect me to create three weeks out of thin air.”
At Maroon Bells, most of the lost funds were from fees that would have been charged to private vehicles. The area also rents its amphitheater to people who want to get married in the shadow of the Bells. Fortunately, the shutdown came at a time of year when there aren’t many weddings there.
“I didn’t hear of any brides that were left at the aisle,” Fitzwilliams said.