Aspen considers saving parking spaces on pass during bike race
August 6, 2012
ASPEN – The city of Aspen is considering reserving four parking spots at Lost Man Campground on Independence Pass during the upcoming USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
Lost Man, which is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, is a first-come, first-served campground that does not take parking or campsite reservations from the general public. More details about whether the Forest Service has a policy allowing reservations at Lost Man under special circumstances were not available.
Mitzi Rapkin, the city’s spokeswoman, said in an email that if the spots are reserved by the city, they could be made available to “dignitaries that will be donating money to be able to be in those spots” as part of a fundraising opportunity to help pay the costs associated with hosting the race.
Or, she wrote, the spots might be set aside for race staff and support workers so that they’ll have a place to go to take a break during inclement weather.
“The city is not 100 percent sure if it is reserving these spots,” Rapkin said. “It is not a done deal and may not happen.”
Information that the city of Aspen is looking into reserving parking spaces at Lost Man comes on the heels of a decision to restrict the public’s overnight camping and parking opportunities between Lost Man and Lackawanna Gulch on Highway 82 on Aug. 22 and 23, the days on which professional cyclists will use the pass going to and leaving Aspen. The U.S. Forest Service made the decision in concert with other local officials and entities, including the city.
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The parameters where the Forest Service plans to enforce the ban roughly equate to mile markers 56 to 66. The top of Independence Pass is at mile marker 61.
Nancy Lesley, the city’s special events director, who is coordinating in-town activities for Aspen’s celebration as a host city for two days of the seven-day race, said last week that the city did have a role in the decision to restrict overnight camping in undesignated areas, along with law-enforcement personnel, the Colorado Department of Transportation and others.
On Friday, the U.S. Forest Service defended its decision.
“Our district ranger, Scott Snelson, made the final call for no overnight camping on the top of the pass,” said Katie Martinez, a recreation planner in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service.
The main concern, Martinez said, is the effect of spectators trampling on the tundra. Lesley said the safety of spectators and the professional riders also were strong considerations.
“Trampling is the human activity which produces the most serious alteration to tundra; this with the combination of the creation of social trails, removing rocks and plants, and littering can have significant and lasting effects,” Martinez said.
The Forest Service’s mission is to “sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests,” she said, “and therefore it is our job to ensure that we maintain the size of the visitor population (and their associated impacts) well below the maximum carrying capacity of the unique ecosystem.”
While the city’s event planners were aware of the decision and have been working in coordination with the Forest Service, “it was ultimately the decision of our district ranger” to restrict roadside camping during the bike race, Martinez said.
Last year, in a last-minute decision by CDOT, camping was allowed along the roadside, she pointed out. But many more spectators are expected on the pass this year, the second year of the event.
“The number of spectators was substantially lower than what we might expect this year,” Martinez said. “It’s hard to predict exactly how many more people to expect this year … (a local newspaper) reported that the event attracted up to 12,000 people to Aspen last year and this year it could be closer to 50,000. Many of those people will be making their way up the pass to view the event.”
She said three Forest Service law enforcement officers will be working on the night of each race day to ensure that no one is camping in the day parking areas and shoulders of Highway 82 between Lost Man and Lackawanna Gulch. Many bike-race fans view that 10-mile stretch of highway as the best place to watch the race compared with the lower sections of the pass, including the Lincoln Gulch, Weller and Difficult campground areas, and viewing areas along the race route within the city.
“In addition, approximately 10 Forest Service employees will stay overnight and help monitor the camping and will be in radio contact with the officers. And this is just the Forest Service part of the monitoring and enforcement. There will be approximately 20 additional law enforcement officers overnight to handle all issues regarding safety,” Martinez said.
She added that if the highway department or state police determine that an area is too crowded with vehicles, including trailers, “either entity may clear the area by requiring vehicles to be moved to another location.”
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said last week that his deputies won’t be actively enforcing camping and parking restrictions along the pass during the overnight hours. He said his officers will serve in a backup role to the Forest Service, should they need some type of assistance, but otherwise will let people enjoy themselves as long as things don’t get out of hand.
“We are not going to be part of the enforcement of people camping,” DiSalvo said. “That’s a Forest Service responsibility. Frankly, I don’t agree with it, but it’s something they feel strongly about and we’re just going to act as a support agency up there. We won’t be enforcing any camping or tundra violations. The Forest Service will, but I’m saying the Sheriff’s Office won’t.”