Maroon Bells ‘getting a break from impacts of people’; winter gates closing for county roads |

Maroon Bells ‘getting a break from impacts of people’; winter gates closing for county roads

The balmy, late-fall weather has prompted more people to take advantage of the Maroon Bells area, which has led to increased garbage, trashed bathrooms and illegal fire rings on the shore of Maroon Lake, an official said Friday.

None of that, however, was the reason Pitkin County officials closed the winter gate on Maroon Creek Road on Friday morning.

“The board (of county commissioners) designates Nov. 15 as the day to close the gate,” said Brian Pettet, Pitkin County’s public works director. “The Forest Service has no one to manage the area past today, so the decision was made to close the gate.

“If someone’s not up there managing it and cleaning the restrooms, … some people don’t pick up after themselves.”

As if to underscore that point, the U.S. Forest Service’s recreation manager for the Maroon Bells area said the crowds have taxed the agency’s remaining meager staff, most of whom left in mid-to-late October.

“It has been busy up there just since it’s been a mild November,” Shelly Grail said.

The trash the crowds leave behind coupled with filthy restrooms and the fire rings are “unfortunate” and indicate that people are not obeying the rules in the heavily used wilderness area, she said.

“We appreciate if people observe the signs and stay on the trial,” Grail said.

Asked if people skating on Maroon Lake — a popular photo lately on Aspen social media as well as news outlets including The Aspen Times — was the problem, Grail declined to comment.

“I don’t really want to get into that,” she said, emphasizing that trash and disrespect to the area has been the main problem.

Last fall, Kate Jerman, the White River public affairs officer, told Aspen Sojourner ice skating “is not prohibited” on the lake but people should access the lake on the south side. That is an area where there are not ropes, which were installed in late 2018 to avoid “shortcuts and social trails” in the summer, a Forest Service official told The Times.

Grail said she and two others have been managing the area for the past few weeks. They head up there about twice a week to pick up the trash, clean the bathrooms and collect the often-full pay tube at the unmanned entrance. The same crew will stick around to shut down the recreation area for the winter.

Though the mild weather is forecast to continue for at least the next week, Pettet said county officials did not consider extending the season and leaving the gate open longer.

“It’s always a balance between human access and giving the area a break from the impacts of people,” he said. “That’s a tough balance.”

It’s the season for winter gate closings, so the gate on Maroon Creek Road ­— located above the T-Lazy 7 Ranch — is far from the only one in the area locking down for the winter.

The winter gate on Castle Creek Road — located above Ashcroft — also closed Friday morning, Pettet said. Pitkin County installed new gates on Dinkle Lake Road and Prince Creek Road this week, and those will close for the winter Dec. 1, he said.

In addition, the Forest Service will close most of its winter gates — including those at Avalanche Creek, Lenado and Basalt Mountain — on Nov. 23, Grail said.

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