Cycling fans have plenty of camping options

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

The U.S. Forest Service will prohibit camping at the top of Independence Pass during the USA Pro Challenge again this year, but it will open some temporary, specially designated sites to accommodate the anticipated crowd.

The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District announced Wednesday that temporary sites will open Aug. 19 and 20. Some sites will be in the Difficult Day Use Area at Difficult Campground, three miles east of Aspen. Walk-in tent camping will be allowed in the day-use area. It can accommodate approximately 50 tents, the agency said.

Overflow vehicle camping will be allowed at the Lost Man Trailhead parking lot, across Highway 82 from Lost Man Campground about 15 miles east of Aspen. The overflow lot can hold about 10 vehicles.

Overnight parking and camping are allowed on Independence Pass from the White River National Forest boundary to mile marker 56 in Pitkin County. Those temporary sites were also available last year.

Camping is also available at the following developed campgrounds: Difficult, Weller, Lincoln Gulch, Portal and Lost Man on the west side of the pass and Parry Peak, Twin Peaks, Lake View, Dexter Point and White Star on the east side.

Camping is prohibited between mile markers 56 and 66, covering both sides of Independence Pass. Camping was allowed two years ago for the inaugural USA Pro Challenge, but the Forest Service determined that there was too much damage to the fragile tundra, according to Rich Doak, lands and staff recreation officer for the forest. Last year, rangers patrolled the upper portion of the pass to enforce a prohibition on camping.

“We’ll have people up on the pass again, including our law enforcement folks,” Doak said.

Martha Moran, a recreation specialist with the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, said she doesn’t expect the same controversy this year over the camping restrictions. She believes that people misinterpreted the agency’s decision and didn’t think any camping was available last year. The developed campgrounds didn’t even fill, she said.

The developed campgrounds plus the temporary spaces will accommodate a lot of race fans, Moran said.

“We’re offering a lot of spaces,” she said. “It isn’t too restrictive.”

The Forest Service isn’t trying to ruin a good time by banning camping at the top of the pass when the world’s best men cyclists tackle the pass, Doak said. It’s just trying to protect the environment, he said.

“Have fun, but be responsible,” Doak said. That includes packing out trash.

Spectators will be able to park between mile markers 56 and 66 on Aug. 20. They should use existing pull-offs, trailheads and day-use areas. They should not create new impacts, said a flier released by the agency.

Day-trippers should not park in developed campgrounds, and they should be aware that the parking at the top of Independence Pass will be reserved for emergency vehicles. Spectators must stay off the course and keep pets secured.

Race fans who want to make the trip up Independence Pass on Aug. 20 should be aware that Highway 82 on the pass will close to vehicles heading east around 9 a.m. and to vehicles heading west around 7:10 a.m. The closures are expected to remain in place until approximately 2 p.m.

The closure doesn’t affect spectators on bicycles, though they cannot interfere with the race.

For additional information on the availability of camping on the Aspen side of the pass, the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District can be reached at 970-925-3445 or at the office at 806 W. Hallam St.

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