Forest Service says record numbers visiting Aspen’s Maroon Bells | AspenTimes.com

Forest Service says record numbers visiting Aspen’s Maroon Bells

Fantastic fall colors are producing copious crowds at the Maroon Bells.

The U.S. Forest Service is warning visitors that the parking lots are getting filled on many mornings, even during weekdays. Private vehicles are prohibited in Maroon Creek Valley from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. when buses are in operation. However, many leaf-peepers drive up earlier to try to capture the perfect picture at sunrise.

"What we're seeing is a zeal for photography at 6 in the morning," said Martha Moran, recreation program manager for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District. She has helped coordinate Forest Service staffing and operations at the Maroon Bells Scenic Area for 16 years. She said signs indicate this summer has been the busiest, eclipsing the record visitation of last summer.

"Last year was a big year," she said. "Last year we just surged. This year we're at another level of surge."

The Forest Service and Roaring Fork Transportation Authority have responded to the surge in a couple of ways. RFTA has added buses, running as many as 13 per day on weekends. Weekday service has been boosted from four to six buses, according to Moran.

"I think we've reached capacity. We can't go beyond 13 buses," Moran said.

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Ridership on the Maroon Bells service was up 18,653 passengers, or nearly 30 percent, through July, according to RFTA. The number of riders in June and July was 81,245 this summer compared with 62,592 for the same period last year.

The Forest Service and its nonprofit partner, the Forest Conservancy, have added to the staff at the Maroon Bells. The Forest Service has six rangers working at the scenic area any given day along with four or so ambassadors from the nonprofit Forest Conservancy. The conservancy also has volunteers patrolling the trails around the Maroon Bells.

Moran said rangers head to the Bells by 6 a.m. to make sure vehicles don't park where they aren't allowed. They have turned people away this summer even before 8 a.m., she said.

"The Bells are definitely ringing," Moran said.

The surge might ease off after this weekend. Moran said veteran staff members at the Bells felt that Thursday was the peak for fall colors.

Moran said the Forest Service is urging all visitors to make advance plans to catch the bus. (See tips for visiting the Maroon Bells in the fact box above.)

Bus service will end after Oct. 2. The water will be turned off and the bathrooms closed. Silver Bell campground will remain open but Silver Bar and Silver Queen will be closed.

Access to the Maroon Lake area will be unrestricted from Oct. 3 until Nov. 15, when the gate is closed.

scondon@aspentimes.com

VISITING THE BELLS

For people in Aspen, the best strategy is to park there, go to Rubey Park bus center and take the Castle/Maroon bus to Aspen Highlands. From Snowmass Village and downvalley locations, drive to Highlands and park for $5.

At Highlands, buy a bus ticket at Four Mountain Sports for a ride to the Maroon Bells and back.

The bus rates are $8 for adults, and $6 for children 6-16 and for seniors. Children 5 and under ride for free.

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