Pitkin County endorses Forest Service fee proposal for Maroon Bells-Snowmass
Public comment open until Sept. 15
The U.S. Forest Service picked up a key endorsement Tuesday of its proposal to implement a reservation and fee system in parts of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
The Pitkin County commissioners indicated unanimously in a straw poll that they would send a letter of support to the Forest Service.
The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District announced last month it is considering a $12 per night, per person fee for the most heavily visited places in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Overnight visitors would be required to make a reservation on Recreation.gov and get a permit. The new system would be in place from May 1 through Oct. 1.
The targeted areas are the Four Pass Loop, Crater Lake, Geneva Lake and Capitol Lake. The fee also would be implemented at Conundrum Hot Springs, where reservations and permits already are required.
The pristine environment in areas along the Four Pass Loop, such as Snowmass Lake, are getting damaged by the high number of people visiting, Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Kevin Warner said at the time the proposal was announced. There has been a surge in backcountry use over the past decade, as images of special places make the rounds on social media. Warner said funds raised by the fees would be used for education, increased patrol by rangers and restoration of damaged areas.
“Given this understanding, the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners supports this fee increase,” the county’s draft letter stated. “The BOCC continues to appreciate the partnership with the White River National Forest Aspen-Sopris Ranger District in its effort to serve the public, while protecting our precious natural resources.”
The commissioners endorsed the letter with only brief discussion. Commissioner Patti Clapper said she hopes all of the revenue raised by the fee stays in the local ranger district.
The endorsement is important because the Forest Service prefers to have local government support for major policy changes with an area.
The Forest Service is taking public comments on the proposed fee and reservation system through Sept. 15. The agency will hold an open house Sept. 1 to provide more information for the public and field questions. The open house will be held at the Basalt Regional Library from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
More information about the proposal and how to comment is available at http://www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver.
In other action Tuesday, the county commissioners scheduled a field trip to investigate another problem affecting national forest lands and a county road.
The commissioners will visit Maroon Creek Road on Sept. 18 to observe the number and actions of cyclists heading to Maroon Lake. There has been an increase in the number of cyclists because of the growing popularity of e-bikes. County and Forest Service officials have noted that some e-bikers are new to the activity and aren’t necessarily educated on proper safety procedures while on a road.
Pitkin County public workers director Brian Pettet said counters this season show between 300 and 400 cyclists per day are traveling to Maroon Lake on weekends. The site visit would be useful, he said, in case the county commissioners are asked to play a role with partners in regulating use in some way.
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