Feds lost up to $30,000 on Maroon Bells closure | AspenTimes.com

Feds lost up to $30,000 on Maroon Bells closure

The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District lost between $20,000 and $30,000 in revenue from the Maroon Bells Scenic Area because of the 16-day U.S. government shutdown, according to White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams.

The agency lost out on fees that typically would be charged to private vehicles and fees at the campgrounds in the Maroon Valley.

The Forest Service collected $231,364 in various fees from the Maroon Bells in 2012, the latest year statistics were available. Vehicles are charged $10 to drive to the Maroon Lake parking lot, though the hours are limited. Part of the fare that bus passengers pay also goes to the Forest Service.

The government shutdown came at a time when the Maroon Valley is typically crawling with leaf peepers. The road was blocked temporarily lower in the valley. The gate was moved closer to Maroon Lake as the shutdown dragged on, but the Forest Service didn't collect the fee at its welcome station because employees were furloughed.

The Maroon Bells are one of the places where the Forest Service can collect fees and use the revenue to enhance and operate its facilities rather than return it to the national treasury. That means the money lost this year won't be available for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District to use next year.

"It's a bummer. It's a big bummer," Fitzwilliams said.

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The money collected is plowed back into operations and maintenance at the Maroon Bells and in surrounding national forest lands for various projects. The money will be used next summer to make sure there is adequate staffing at the popular destination, Fitzwilliams said. Money will be deferred for maintenance and capital improvements as a direct result of loss of revenue, he said.

The loss of the fees is particularly bad because the agency's regular budget will likely shrink by about 5 percent, according to Fitzwilliams.

Elsewhere in the public lands around Aspen, the Forest Service lost revenue when its concessionaire at campgrounds closed some spots earlier than planned. Some campgrounds already were closing for the fall and winter when the shutdown hit. Some spaces in larger campgrounds — such as Chapman in the Fryingpan Valley and Bogan Flats in the Crystal Valley — were scheduled to remain open well into hunting season. Instead, the concessionaire closed all spaces because of the shutdown, Fitzwilliams said.

Routine Forest Service functions including reviews of projects by permit holders such as ski areas also were placed on hold because of the shutdown. The Forest Service also was forced to put its own projects on temporary hold.

"We lost three weeks that we can't make up," Fitzwilliams said. "My bosses don't expect me to create three weeks out of thin air."

At the Maroon Bells, most of the lost money was from fees that would have been charged to private vehicles. The area also rents its amphitheater to people who want to get married in the shadow of the Bells. Fortunately, the shutdown came at a time of year when there aren't many weddings there.

"I didn't hear of any brides that were left at the aisle," Fitzwilliams said.

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