Officials to ponder Maroon Bells reservation system |

Officials to ponder Maroon Bells reservation system

Maroon Bells leaf-peepers may need a reservation this fall to see the colors at the iconic wilderness area.

Elected officials from the city of Aspen and Pitkin County on Tuesday will discuss implementing a reservation system for the Maroon Bells Scenic Area in September and October thanks to record numbers of visitors last year.

Officials also will talk about starting Maroon Bells shuttles at 5:30 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. “to serve the ‘sunrise crowd,’” as well as extending shuttle service to Oct. 11, according to Pitkin County memo.

“Over the past few seasons, (the Maroon Bells) visitation during the peak season of September and October has seen notable increases,” according to a memo to elected officials from Pitkin County Public Works Director Brian Pettet and John Krueger, city of Aspen transportation director.

“For example, RFTA experienced record ridership on Sept. 28, with 3,480 passengers served one-way.”

The Bells received about 12,000 vehicles in September of 2018 and 2019, according to statistics provided to elected officials. However, the number of cars nearly doubled from about 2,000 in October 2018 to nearly 4,000 in October 2019. In addition, 1,750 more cars used the Aspen Highlands parking garage in October last year than October 2018.

In order to accommodate the later leaf-peeping, which may have been caused by the leaves changing later in the season last fall, officials are proposing a pilot reservation system in September and October this year that would cap the number of bus riders to the Bells at 3,000 per day during the busiest weekends.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority shuttles — which board at Aspen Highlands and are the only way to the Bells between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. from June to October — also may start at 5:30 a.m. to accommodate people who line up hours before sunrise to photograph the sun come up over Maroon Lake.

Visitors can drive to the Bells parking lot before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m.

“The parking lots can fill up by 5:30 a.m., creating significant traffic congestion as vehicles are turned around and directed back to Aspen Highlands, where queues of people begin to form for the start of the RFTA shuttle service an hour and a half or more later,” according to the memo from Pettet and Krueger.

Members of Aspen City Council are expected to join Pitkin County commissioners at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday at the commissioner meeting room at the Pitkin County Building on Main Street to discuss the traffic management scenarios.

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