City wants say on Maroon Lake |

City wants say on Maroon Lake

Janet Urquhart

For what it’s worth, the Aspen City Council will give its opinion on the options being considered for a controversial visitor center planned at Maroon Lake.

Jim Upchurch, new Aspen district ranger with the U.S. Forest Service, assured the council Monday he welcomes the council’s input, though officials with his agency will make the final call.

The council called Upchurch in to discuss the new restrooms built at the lake and the city’s fears that the visitor center will resemble the restrooms, which have been roundly criticized by locals. The visitor center is slated for construction near the restrooms in 2002.

The Forest Service is currently reviewing five options for the center, including scaling back the building and putting some functions at the lower Maroon Lake parking lot or at Aspen Highlands, on the way up to the lake. Upchurch said the council is welcome to make a recommendation on which option it prefers.

Though scenic Maroon Lake and the Maroon Bells beyond are outside the city, the popular tourist attraction is a key amenity for Aspen as a resort, said Mayor Rachel Richards. The new restrooms, say council members, don’t look much like what was depicted in an artist’s rendering they reviewed several years ago. They also told Upchurch they’re worried that the planned visitor center won’t be exactly what they expected, either.

“The designs that have been implemented don’t seem to match that original vision,” Richards said.

That’s true, agreed Upchurch, who took over the Aspen post in June. The plans for the facade changed, and a two-story facility was built to accommodate composting toilets, he said.

The bunker-style restrooms, designed to withstand avalanches, were built into a mound of dirt that hides the building from view from beyond. Hikers coming down from Crater Lake and other points above Maroon Lake, for instance, shouldn’t notice the building in the distance.

But the mound of dirt and rocks looks like a pile of construction debris, said Richards, and local residents have complained that the facade of the building looks like it came out of “The Flintstones.”

“Well the rock is supposed to look natural,” said Upchurch. “When I got up there and saw it, I was a little taken aback too.”

However, added Upchurch, many people who have not been to the lake before praise the unique facility. “It really is in the eye of the beholder. Some people think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread,” he said.

“Almost overwhelmingly, the local people object to its location and design,” he conceded.

Trees were planted around the facility on Saturday, and more vegetation is planned, which should help, Upchurch added.

“The real issue is what we do with the next step,” he said. “What we’re going to try to do is match what we’ve got out there. You don’t

want to clash,” he said. “We’ve gone with this rock facade. Whether you like it or not, it’s what I’ve got to work with.”

The visitor center, where buses will drop people off, will provide shelter during storms, function as an interpretive area where Forest Service personnel will provide information to visitors and serve a commercial purpose, with the sale of maps and the like.

Its proposed size – 5,000 square feet – troubled the council, though it will be built into an existing hill, according to Upchurch.

“It sounds huge for those purposes,” Richards said. “This is where you’re dropped off. This is background, once you go down the trail . but it’s the arrival area. It’s the first thing you see.”

Some of the building’s functions could be moved elsewhere, allowing for a smaller structure at the bus drop-off, Upchurch said. Such options will be considered, he said.

Upchurch assured the council it’s his goal to enhance, not detract from, the natural beauty of the area, but he stepped in for the last phase of a $6 million project that began in 1995.

“I understand all those concerns,” he said. “All I can say is I’ve got to work with what we’ve got.”

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