Season around Aspen extended to make campers happy |

Season around Aspen extended to make campers happy

Campgrounds in some of the most spectacular settings around Aspen will stay open longer than usual this fall thanks to an experiment by the U.S. Forest Service.

Weller, Lost Man and Lincoln Gulch campgrounds will stay open through Sept. 27. The three small campgrounds up Independence Pass typically close right after Labor Day Weekend.

Difficult Campground, the largest in the Aspen area with 47 sites, will also be open through Sept. 27, one week later than originally planned.

Officials at the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District negotiated the longer season with Thousand Trails Management Services Inc., the company that has a contract to manage the campgrounds, according to Mike Kenealy, an official in the White River National Forest supervisor’s office in Glenwood Springs.

The Forest Service sought the change because there were “lots of requests last year” for the campgrounds to stay open during the fall color season. Some observers have found it ironic for years that the campgrounds closed just when the leaves turned brilliant yellow, the skies were deep blue and the mountaintops were often dusted with snow.

The Forest Service and its vendor said supply-and-demand dictated the closure dates. They claimed in the past that there weren’t enough campers to justify keeping some of the smaller sites open. This fall will be an experiment to see how the public responds.

“If they get used, we’ll consider it longer term,” Kenealy said.

Staying open longer will add to Thousand Trails’ management expenses. There won’t be a camp host at the three smaller campgrounds, but area managers will visit the campgrounds to collect fees and interact with campers, Kenealy said.

Thousand Trails has trouble keeping camp hosts on the job into September, according to Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Irene Davidson. The hosts, particularly at the smaller campgrounds, get antsy to migrate to jobs in warmer climates to the south, she said.

In the Maroon Creek Valley, the three “silver” campgrounds will remain open until late October or as late as weather allows, whichever comes first. Silver Bar, Silver Bell and Silver Queen are operated by the Forest Service rather than Thousand Trails.

In the Crystal Valley closure dates were extended into October, in some cases. Avalanche, Bogan Flats and part of the Redstone campgrounds will remain open through Oct. 25. Half of Redstone will close Sept. 27. Avalanche and part of Redstone will remain open without facilities until Nov. 15 for hunting season.

At Ruedi Reservoir, Little Maude will close Sept. 7 while the Marina campground will close Sept. 21. Little Mattie will close Oct. 26. Molly B will remain open as long as conditions allow.

Further up the Fryingpan Valley, Dearhammer, Elk Wallow and the sprawling Chapman campgrounds will be open through Oct. 25. Chapman and Dearhammer will remain open without facilities for hunting season.

The campground management contract for Thousand Trails expires in two years. Davidson said the Forest Service is holding internal discussions on conditions it wants to include in the next contract. “We’ve talked about keeping [the campgrounds] open later,” she said.

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