Maroon Bells reservations remain a coveted ticket
Reservations opened Monday for shuttle seats and parking spaces
People wanting to visit the Maroon Bells Scenic Area from the convenience of their own vehicles swamped the reservation system Monday on its first day of operation.
More than 2,600 reservations were made for parking by the afternoon. Many of those were in the category of extended daytime visits, which require people to arrive prior to 8 a.m. and depart by 4:30 p.m.
The demand surged in the morning.
“They were averaging a reservation every second,” Scott Fitzwilliams, White River National Forest supervisor, said Monday afternoon.
Most prime spots in the heart of summer and the September leaf-peeping season were snatched up soon after the system opened, although a quick check by The Aspen Times found some daytime slots available. In addition to the daytime parking popular with hikers, there are reservations for evenings and a limited number for overnight parking.
In addition to the parking, nearly 1,900 tickets were sold for the shuttle system as of about 4 p.m. Monday, according to Fitzwilliams. The vendor operating the reservation system also received more than 1,000 phone calls and 500 emails for requests for reservations, he said.
One frustrated Basalt resident said she went online at the reservation site at 10 a.m. when the system was supposed to be operating but it wasn’t in service yet. When she checked back about one hour later she found slim pickings for parking spots. She opined that hotels might be snatching up parking reservations for their guests. U.S. Forest Service officials checked to see if there were numerous reservations by a handful of parties but couldn’t find any evidence of it, Fitzwilliams said.
Reservations must be made at https://aspenchamber.org/.
About 53% of the parking reservations were made by Colorado residents, including 212 reservations by Roaring Fork Valley residents, he said.
The demand was higher for parking slots than for shuttle seats. Ample space on the shuttles was still available after the first day of reservations. RFTA has increased capacity from 15 last summer to 18 per shuttle. That could increase if capacity limits are eased this summer by public health agencies.
In addition, the shuttle season will be longer than last year. The shuttle service will start June 7 and continue to Oct. 17 or Oct. 24, depending on demand.
The price of a parking reservation is $10. The price of an adult, round-trip shuttle ticket is $16.
The Forest Service limited parking and implemented a reservation system last summer in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The reservation system was also started for a reduced number of shuttle tickets. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority has been forced by state and local guidelines to reduce capacity on its buses as a coronavirus precaution.
Fitzwilliams said the demand for Maroon Bells parking and shuttle reservations mirrored demand for limited spaces to access Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon. Those reservations were opened April 1.
People flocked to the great outdoors last summer when COVID closed down so many activities. It looks like this summer will be just as busy.
“I think this is an indication of what we can expect for the summer,” Fitzwilliams said. “We think there will be at least as much or more visitation as last year.”
The United States Departments of Education and Health and Human Services will begin sending free Covid tests to schools, which the Aspen School District will take advantage of when their current stock runs low.