ASPEN — Visitors who attempted to drive up to the popular Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area were denied access Tuesday after Maroon Creek Road was closed to all motor vehicles as part of the recent government closures.
Congress couldn’t agree on a budget Monday evening, and the U.S. federal government closed all nonessential services that midnight, including most U.S. Forest Service activities.
The impact already is being felt locally with the closure of Maroon Creek Road, which represents the only vehicular access to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area, one of the Aspen area’s most popular tourist attractions.
The Maroon Bells are considered one the most photographed areas in Colorado. The next two weekends also are considered peak times to view the changing fall colors in the area.
A message was sent out around 1:15 p.m. by the Pitkin County Alert system stating that Maroon Creek Road was closed indefinitely to all uphill traffic near the T Lazy 7 Ranch, about a half mile below the Forest Service entry portal. It also clarifies that the U.S. Forest Service has closed all campgrounds, parking lots and restroom facilities at the Maroon Bells as well as all campgrounds in the Maroon Creek Valley until further notice. However, pedestrians and bicycles are still welcome to use Maroon Creek Road.
All closures will remain in effect until Congress settles its budget issues. Thousands of government workers were told not to work Tuesday, with nobody knowing for sure when they will return to work.
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said the Maroon Bells area campground hosts would be permitted to stay on site and assist people returning from hikes.
“I haven’t delegated any authority to the hosts,” DiSalvo said. “But I’m aware of the situation and appreciate their help.”
DiSalvo was at the area near the T Lazy 7 Ranch on Tuesday when Maroon Creek Road was closed.
“It wasn’t an angry mob by any means,” he said. “But most people were frustrated, and I totally understand that. I’m frustrated, too. It’s as real shame. I feel really bad for the people who came here just to see the Bells.
“Fortunately, there are other local options to see the fall colors. The Bells aren’t the only show in town.”
Peggy Jo Trish works for the U.S. Forest Service and is the manager of the Maroon Bells area. Trish showed up for work Tuesday but didn’t have an option to stay once the closure became official.
“I was just told to leave,” Trish said. “It’s a very sad day.”
Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman expressed his disappointment with Congress for not moving forward on approving a budget.
“Congress is using the health care issue as blackmail, which has nothing to do with maintaining the government,” Newman said. “Look at Washington, D.C.: When you think about all the tourists and guests wanting to visit all the national monuments and archives, ... it won’t happen. So it impacts us and impacts the entire country. It’s really distressing.”
Newman did offer one optimistic vantage concerning the closures.
“The only silver lining is that the road will be available for those on bicycles and those who wish to walk,” he said. “It’ll be a great place for the locals to enjoy the colors without any traffic.”