Maroon Bells already feels summer rush
The Aspen Times
MAROON BELLS SUMMER BUS SERVICE
Bus service to the Maroon Bells resumes Saturday and runs through Oct. 2. While the bus is available, motorized travel will be limited to vehicles carrying persons with disabilities, children in car seats, and campers occupying sites at Silver Bar, Silver Bell and Silver Queen Campgrounds.
The first bus of the day departs Aspen Highlands at 8:05 a.m. and continues every 20 minutes until 4:30 p.m.
Bus fares were increased to $8 for adults 17 to 64 years of age; $6 for children 6 to 16 and for seniors 65 years of age and older. Kids under six ride for free.
Maroon Bells annual passes may be purchased for $25. This pass is valid for one year and it permits vehicle entrance (otherwise $10) to the Maroon Bells when buses are not operating, and bus fare for the cardholder when service is available. America the Beautiful passes, which generally cover entrance and standard amenity fees for federal lands, are also accepted and are available for $80.
For more information about the Maroon Bells, visit fs.usda.gov/whiteriver, or contact the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District at (970) 963-2266. For bus schedules and detailed information about RFTA’s service, visit rfta.com/routes/maroon-bells or call (970) 925-8484.
Summer crowds showed up at the Maroon Bells before summer did.
Memorial Day weekend was the busiest at the Maroon Bells in the 20 years that Peggy Jo Trish has been overseeing operations there for the U.S. Forest Service. The day-use parking lot was filled to capacity. For the first time ever, the Forest Service required motorists to wait at the guard station on Maroon Creek Road. The gatekeepers allowed two vehicles to drive up to the Bells only when two vehicles drove down, Trish said.
The crowds weren’t limited to the holiday weekend during this preseason. Martha Moran, recreation staff supervisor for the Aspen-Sopris District, said the day-use parking lot filled to capacity on Tuesday — previously unheard of prior to mid-June.
“It’s a great place to love, and we’re feeling it,” Moran said.
Restrictions on personal vehicles start this weekend, when Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses start summer operations. (See Fact Box for more information.)
“I’m quite thankful the buses are starting this Saturday,” Trish said.
First moose-human encounter
The Maroon Bells facilities also experienced their earliest trail closure ever because of potential human conflicts with moose.
The Forest Service closed the designated “Scenic Loop” around Maroon Lake to prevent conflicts between human visitors and a moose cow and calf that have taken up residence there.
“People were in the face of the moose,” Moran said. The trail remained closed through Wednesday. Dogs will be prohibited from the Scenic Loop throughout this summer since moose are frequently in the area.
“They can be gone for weeks, then show up,” Trish said. The willow trees, a favorite food for moose, are just sprouting at the high elevations, so it’s attracting the moose. Trish said workers up there were thrilled to see the cow and calf.
“We only had bull moose up there last year,” she said.
The quick start to this season comes after record-breaking numbers in 2015. A report by the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District estimated 230,000 visitors came to the Maroon Bells Scenic Area last year, with about 15,000 by bicycle, 100,000 by bus and the remainder by private vehicles.
The peak day for the year saw 1,042 vehicles and bicycles compared to 948 for the peak in 2014.
Moran said the explosion in the use of the internet for trip planning has influenced the numbers. Trip Advisor rates the Maroon Bells as number 3 in the top 10 places to visit in Colorado, the report noted.
RFTA expanded bus service by one hour per day last year and extended service further into the fall. Extra service contributed to the record ridership. RFTA reported 174,202 passengers — up 41 percent, or 51,074, from the summer before.
Moran said RFTA ran up to 13 buses on the busiest days. The Forest Service has asked the public bus agency to stick to five buses, even if it means passengers wait longer in lines.
“We can’t handle the volume up there,” she said.
Trish has seven Forest Service staffers and one maintenance person to run the facilities. The Forest Service relied last summer on 127 volunteers to help patrol the Bells and other areas. Those volunteers logged 10,850 hours .
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The Forest Service plans to replace the Carbondale Aspen-Sopris ranger district station with a newer, larger facility.