Leaf peepers take advantage of open Aspen campsites
October 17, 2009
ASPEN – Campgrounds on Independence Pass, southeast of Aspen, stayed open nearly three extra weeks in September – an experiment that may be worth repeating, according to a U.S. Forest Service official.
The Weller, Lincoln Gulch and Lost Man campgrounds have typically closed right after Labor Day weekend, but this year the Forest Service negotiated a longer season with the company that manages the sites to see if campers would make use of the facilities during the fall color season. Last year, campers urged the agency to keep the sites open longer.
Despite some sketchy weather, including one weekend of miserable camping conditions, occupancy for the month at the three campgrounds was roughly 20 percent overall, said Mike Kenealy, recreation special uses coordinator for the White River National Forest.
“I think it was worth keeping those sites open,” he said. “There was some use in those campgrounds for sure.”
The three small campgrounds stayed open through Sept. 27, and Difficult Campground, the largest in the Aspen area with 47 sites, was also to remain open until Sept. 27 – a week longer than usual – but wound up closing Sept. 18 for the installation of new toilets.
For the entire season, 13,478 people camped in the four campgrounds, Kenealy said.
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During the month of September, including the busy Labor Day weekend, the seven campsites at Lincoln Gulch Campground on the pass were booked a total of 100 nights and used by a total of 376 people, he said.
Weller’s 11 sites were booked 118 times and used by a total of 323 people in September. Lost Man, the highest-elevation campground on the pass, saw 69 bookings of its 10 sites during the month, and use by 165 people.
Whether or not the extended camping season on Independence Pass will be repeated next year will be determined over the winter months, as the Forest Service works out next season’s operating schedule with Thousand Trails Management Services Inc., the company that has a contract to manage the campgrounds, Kenealy said.
Business overall was up at the Roaring Fork Valley campgrounds managed by Thousand Trails, according to Connie Stafford, area manager for the company along with her husband, John. They oversee campgrounds on the pass, and in the Fryingpan and Crystal River valleys.
Overall use was up at least 10 percent and probably more, Stafford said. Recession-conscious vacationers may get the credit for the uptick – some callers actually inquired about the cost of camping versus getting a hotel room in the Aspen area, she said.
“I think it’s a sign of the times,” Stafford said.
“We all think that’s it,” agreed Martha Moran, Forest Service recreation manager for the Aspen and Sopris ranger districts. “I think people are going back to their old roots rather than booking hotels.”
Summer visitation to the Maroon Bells near Aspen has not yet been tabulated, but it’s definitely up, Moran said. Revenues from the entrance fees for the Bells ($10 per vehicle during certain hours of the day throughout the summer and fall) are up about 25 percent, she said.
The three campgrounds along Maroon Creek Road, operated by the Forest Service rather than Thousand Trails, did not see more use than usual because they’re nearly always full every season, Moran said.
“They’re pretty much occupied from the first day of summer to Labor Day,” she said. “Those campgrounds are full, like 95 percent, every day of the week.”
The three Maroon Creek campgrounds typically open for the season on or close to Memorial Day weekend; Silver Bell remains open through hunting season. Also still open for the hunting season are Avalanche and Bogan Flats campgrounds south of Carbondale, and Deer Hammer, Elk Wallow and the Ruedi Marina campground in the upper Fryingpan Valley, Kenealy said.
Go to http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/recreation/campgrounds/ for information on campgrounds in the White River National Forest, which surrounds Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley.