The Pitkin Board of County Commissioners agreed Tuesday to allow the opening of Maroon Creek Road another several miles closer to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area by Thursday morning.
The road closure that began Oct. 1 closed traffic near the T Lazy 7 Ranch, about a half-mile below the Forest Service entry portal. On Thursday, the plan is to open the road another four to five miles closer to the wilderness area.
Currently, a temporary orange barricade is set up on the Maroon Creek Road where it changes from a county road to a Forest Service-controlled road. The initial plan is to allow vehicular traffic to park in an area within a third of a mile of the Forest Service barricade, near Stein Meadows.
Despite cutting the distance by nearly five miles, it still would be between two and three miles to the wilderness area.
The initial road closure was part of the federal government’s partial shutdown. The county elected to keep the road between the T Lazy 7 Ranch and Stein Meadows closed mainly due to public-safety issues.
“Our concerns were twofold,” said Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock. “First and foremost was public safety. This was promised to be an extremely busy weekend with potentially hundreds of cars traveling up that road. We were concerned with that many vehicles trying to park along the shoulders. There was a public-safety issue by narrowing the road and putting pedestrians and bicyclists on the road with cars coming up and down.”
Peacock said the other reason for keeping the closure was resource impact. He said the potential for folks bringing their vehicles onto sensitive areas was too great of a risk, as was the issue of dealing with a lack of restroom facilities.
With the area past peak foliage colors and the restrooms at the main wilderness-area parking lot closed for the season as of this past Sunday, Peacock told the commissioners that from a safety perspective, the road is safe to reopen.
Peacock recommended that the county use today to work out any logistical and safety issues, as well as send out a message to the public, before opening the road on Thursday.
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said the Stein Meadows area would work for parking and as a turn-around area for cars. He also offered to have officers keep patrolling the road.
“If we’re going to reopen the road, let’s do our best and keep it as safe as possible,” DiSalvo said. “This would get people closer to the Bells, which is exactly what we’re trying to do. We’ve already had enough physical and bureaucratic roadblocks.”
County Commissioner George Newman said all the commissioners support opening Maroon Creek Road as far as safely possible. He also congratulated DiSalvo and his fellow deputies for helping people forthe past week on Maroon Creek Road by answering questions and offer alternative areas to enjoy the fall colors.