Forest Service: Opening of Maroon Lake facilities will be delayed until June
The Maroon Bells Scenic Area, one of Aspen’s top tourist attractions and a gateway to wilderness, will not open as scheduled May 15 due to the Herculean effort that will be required to remove avalanche debris from the access road, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District is tentatively setting the opening for June 15 after consulting this week with Pitkin County public works officials.
“We hope to have the road open by June 15,” said Shelly Grail, recreation manager for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District who oversees operations at Maroon Lake. “Everything is tentative.”
The Forest Service has relayed the delay to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which operates bus service to the area. A June 15 start-up for buses would be a week later than last season but “on par” with prior years, she said.
Maroon Creek Road has been covered by numerous slides in the 7 miles between T-Lazy-7 Ranch and Maroon Lake. Grail skied up the valley last weekend to the site where a massive slide covered the road a short distance past upper Stein Meadow, after the road bends toward Maroon and North Maroon peaks. The road is covered with snow several feet deep as well as tree trunks.
“It was pretty mind-blowing and that was after being up to Conundrum and seeing that debris pile,” Grail said.
The slide off Highlands Ridge in the Five Fingers area and into Conundrum Valley was rated a 4.5 on the D-scale for destructive potential by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. D1 is the least destructive and D5 is most destructive.
There were two avalanches rated at 3.5 and two at 4 in the Maroon Valley between March 6 and 9, according to the avalanche center.
Grail didn’t have time to ski to Maroon Lake and assess the conditions of Forest Service facilities there. It’s unknown if the amphitheater suffered damage by a slide. The facility is popular for rental for weddings.
Grail had to be the bearer of bad news for multiple couples planning their weddings in view of the Maroon Bells this year. She sent emails to 13 parties who had weddings planned at the amphitheater and three more with plans at the East Maroon Portal between Memorial Day Weekend and June 14 that they would have to change their plans because of the extended closure.
The heavy snowfall and active avalanche season also will affect hiking and backpacking plans over at least the first half of summer. Grail said it is obvious that snow and downed trees will be an issue on trails heading out of Maroon Valley and into the wilderness this year.
“The creek crossings will also be of concern,” she said.
Uncertainty remains over the status of the trail to the Conundrum Hot Springs. The Five Fingers slide obliterated the parking lot and trailhead. The parking lot has been closed for the foreseeable future and there is no parking on Conundrum Creek and Castle Creek roads. Backpackers and hikers will have to be shuttled to the trailhead by vehicles that leave the area, Grail said.
It’s also unknown how long it will take before the trail is navigable. In addition to tons of debris deposited by the Five Fingers avalanche, another slide rated a D4 occurred the next bowl up the valley, according to the avalanche center. Debris rolled across the creek and onto the opposite side of the valley where the trail is located.
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