More people hiking, camping in forest around Aspen |

More people hiking, camping in forest around Aspen

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Courtesy Martha MoranLost Man Campground near the summit of Independence Pass remains closed for obvious reasons. Most other campgrounds on the national forest around Aspen opened for Memorial Day weekend.

ASPEN – As the national forest campgrounds open and the trails start to dry out for another summer, there are signs that people are taking advantage of the simple things in life – like a trip to the great outdoors – during the Great Recession.

The number of people catching a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus to Maroon Lake soared 7 percent last summer. There were 69,878 riders in summer 2008, compared to 74,741 last summer, according to RFTA’s statistics. That was the highest ridership over the past five years.

A veteran with the U.S. Forest Service’s Aspen-Sopris Ranger District also noticed more activity last summer.

“People are going back to the basics, maybe because of the recession,” said Martha Moran of the ranger district’s recreation staff. “I’d say overall, there are more people recreating as a result of the recession.”

Road biking is a prime example. Moran said there was an average of about 50 road bicyclists per day on Maroon Creek Road when she started counting a decade or so ago. That daily average ballooned to about 150 per day last summer, she said.

The ride is popular because traffic is restricted for much of the summer. Cyclists and pedestrians can travel the road for free. At certain times of the year, vehicles must pay a fee for access. During the heart of summer, private vehicles are prohibited during the day.

The Forest Service collected about 15 percent more in fees from people visiting the Maroon Bells in 2009 over 2008. The agency collected $205,500 last summer compared to $176,000 the prior summer. The collections might be slightly misleading. Last summer was the first time the Forest Service attempted to collect voluntary fees from drivers accessing the area when restrictions weren’t in place. Therefore, some of the increase in revenues is due to more people paying rather than more people visiting.

Other statistics, however, clearly indicate more people are visiting the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. There was a 29 percent increase in the number of people heading into the backcountry for overnight trips via either the East Maroon Pass trail or the Maroon Lake trails, according to the Forest Service. In 2009, there were permits issued to 3,715 backpackers.

The popular Conundrum Hot Springs also saw significantly more people heading up for a soak last year. The number of visitors soared from 1,575 two summers ago to 2,180 last summer.

Moran said that revenues at the campgrounds in the district were also up last season for Thousand Trails, a concessionaire with the contract to run the facilities. Overall camping statistics weren’t available, although Moran said campers at Difficult Campground, east of Aspen, soared from 4,000 to 10,000 last summer.

Visitors are already hitting the hills this summer. The Forest Service opened its facilities in the Maroon Creek Valley on Friday. Vehicular access is currently allowed for a $10 permit that is good for five days. Road restrictions go into place June 19. All-day users will be required to ride the bus between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The ticket is $6 for adults and $4 for children and seniors.

Moran said forest visitors will find snow at about 11,000 feet in elevation, with little snow below and a lot above that line. “It’s like boom,” she said.

The East Maroon trail can be hiked for a ways without encountering snow, but hikers trying to go to Crater Lake will “post hole” or punch through the snow, she said.

Most Forest Service campgrounds opened for Memorial Day weekend, though a handful were closed because of snow or maintenance. Lost Man on the Independence Pass road is closed because of snow. Weller and Difficult campgrounds are open.

In the Fryingpan Valley, the Little Maude campground is closed while new toilets are installed. The large and popular Chapman Campground in the upper Fryingpan Valley is open, although loops may be closed at times for removal of dead and dying trees.

Information on campgrounds, trails, fishing and other opportunities for recreation can be found at the White River National Forest website at