Go Play: Things to know before visiting Maroon Bells in Aspen, Colorado
U.S. Forest Service
When entering the Maroon Bells Scenic Area, familiar signs identify the U.S. Forest Service as the agency responsible for managing the alpine paradise found within the Maroon Valley. As visitors arrive at the welcome station or stroll around Maroon Lake, they often assume they are visiting a unit of the National Park Service, perhaps because this scale of scenic beauty is something the public subconsciously reserves for park service units like Yosemite or Yellowstone. Maroon Bells is certainly an exception, falling under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service and its multiple use mission.
However, this clarification falls short of describing the broader partnership that goes well beyond the land management role of the Forest Service, supporting quality visitor experiences at the Maroon Bells Scenic Area. This winter, while the Maroon Valley rested under a blanket of snow, local partners and the Forest Service worked together on a plan to improve visitor experience in the summer of 2015.
Aspen Ski Co. and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) are two long time partners which have made it possible for the Forest Service to welcome increasing numbers of visitors, now exceeding 300,000 people each year, from all over the world. During the winter and spring of 2015, these partners have increased their commitment to transportation solutions for visitors to the Maroon Bells.
RFTA will offer an expanded schedule providing an extra hour of express bus service each morning without the customary interpretive stops. Express service will operate between Aspen Highlands and the Maroon Bells with three departures between 8 and 9am. The fare includes entry into the Maroon Bells Scenic Area and will remain at $6 for adults, $4 for children 6 to 16 and seniors over 65, and free for children under 6. The intended passengers for the morning express service include those who want an early start such as Four Pass Loop backpackers, wildlife viewers, and photographers.
Aspen Ski Company will continue providing parking for the public at the Aspen Highlands parking facility. Highlands has also donated additional space for Forest Service visitor information services in their lobby. Volunteers from the Forest Conservancy will help staff the area and offer interpretive programs. Visitor information at Aspen Highlands and increased bus service from RFTA amounts to an improved, 7 day a week transportation and visitor information hub at Aspen Highlands operating between 8am and 5pm. During these hours, visitors are reminded that the Maroon Creek Road up to the Bells is closed with exception for high occupancy vehicles with 11 or more passengers, vehicles with disability license plates or placards, and vehicles transporting infants younger than 2 years.
The Maroon Bells Scenic Area is growing ever more popular as a place to see and experience your National Forest. A steady stream of people visits the Bells each day and this requires that we all raise the standard in how we enjoy our public lands together. This is where the Forest Service owes a debt to its most important partner — our visitor. Without your participation and cooperation, the efforts of the Forest Service and associated partners could not succeed to a significant degree…. Not without you, the hiker, the photographer, the cyclist, the tourist, or the pet owner. All members of the public have a role in public lands stewardship and contributing to a positive Maroon Bells experience for everyone.
The Forest Service developed a new 2015 Maroon Bells Scenic Area web page to help inform visitors about what’s new for 2015: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/whiteriver/specialplaces/?cid=stelprd3835353 Please take a look and plan ahead to enjoy your public lands.
For information on volunteering with the Forest Conservancy, visit http://forestconservancy.com.
Here are two suggestions for minimum impact visits to the Maroon Bells:
1. To minimize potential wildlife conflicts with dogs please consider leaving your dog at home on this trip to avoid adverse encounters that may spook wildlife. If you do bring your dog, please observe trail closures and recommendations, use a leash, and remove any waste left behind by your dog.
2. Dispose or pack out all trash in a responsible manner. Use bear resistant food containers for back country overnight travel and use bear proof trash receptacles provided in front country developed sites.
Todd Parker is the Natural Resource Specialist (Recreation) for the Aspen and Sopris Ranger Districts. Contact him at 970-404-3158.
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