Maroon Bells summer bus service in doubt

Staff report
Passengers board a bus in the Maroon Creek Valley.
RFTA/courtesy photo

With the coronavirus pandemic clouding Aspen’s summer tourist future, officials are pondering what the Maroon Bells Recreation Area might look like in the coming months and whether that includes the usual daytime bus service.

“We’re trying to figure that out right now,” said Kevin Warner, district ranger for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District. “It’s a tough one to try and game plan without knowing what the state and the county are going to do.”

Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses are the only way to get to the Maroon Bells every day between from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. between mid-June and about mid-October. Officials were talking about expanding the service for the fall, when leaf-peepers and photographers pack the area before dawn for sunrise shots.

However, RFTA bus service is expensive and if the Aspen’s summer tourist season doesn’t materialize, a new plan will be necessary, said Warner and Pitkin County Public Works Director Brian Pettet.

“It’s tough to see the need (for buses without tourists),” Warner said.

However, the decision to eliminate bus service will not be made hastily because county and U.S. Forest Service officials have spent decades getting tourists to accept the current situation, Warner said.

But if cars are going to be allowed up to the Bells, Pettet said he’d like to have a plan in place before the road and the Maroon Bells Recreation Area are set to open May 30. Normally Maroon Creek Road and the recreation area open May 15, though Forest Service developed campgrounds and recreation sites in the Colorado and other regional states will be closed this year through May 30 because of the coronavirus.

Cars could be limited to a certain number under such a plan, Pettet said.

“I think it’s a wait and see (situation) on how many visitors are coming to Aspen this summer,” Pettet said. “We just don’t know.”

Warner echoed that sentiment, saying that decisions about the Bells area will be made within the next month or so depending on the situation with the virus.


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