USFS dubs Maroon Bells fee program a success
After two months of charging people who want to visit the Maroon Bells, Forest Service officials are calling the program a success.
Very few visitors objected to the fees, said USFS recreation specialist Andy Steele. And the program raised enough money to meet the Forest Service’s goal of improving service and increasing maintenance at the Maroon Lake area.
“We’ve had virtually no complaints,” said Joanne Lyon, a Forest Service employee who works at the gatehouse on Maroon Creek Road. “They all pull up here with their wallets out.”
“There are more complaints about the road being closed,” she said. “You’d think after 23 years they’d catch on.”
Steele said the numbers haven’t been crunched, so neither the total number of visitors nor the exact amounts collected are known. But he said the entrance station collected about $27,000 in July and roughly $30,000 in August. Over Labor Day weekend alone, the take was about $5,000, he said.
About 95 percent of the visitors are willing to pay, Steele said. The rest turn around and leave. A few park and hike up to Maroon Lake.
Since the fees started July 1, the Forest Service has not noticed a drop in the number of visitors, Steele said. Only the sales of $40 season passes were below expectations. Lyon, who’s been at the entry station in previous years, agreed with that assessment.
“We’ve had very few people turn around,” Lyon said. “I had somebody give me a twenty last week.” Though the fee is $10 per car, she said, the person gave her $20 because he and his family were so pleased with the extra information they received.
One problem Steele noted was the lack of employees needed to collect fees. The program operated from the start with six employees rather than the eight that were needed. Now three of the six have left, either heading back to college or to fight wildfires, he said.
Other minor glitches include confusion about the different kinds of passes accepted. Visitors can use their Golden Eagle, Golden Age, Golden Access or National Parks passes to gain admission. The confusion is mainly because other parks and attractions have different rules.
White River National Forest officials are still under pressure from higher up, Steele said, to charge admission fees to bicyclists, in-line skaters and hikers.
The fees will remain in place until the end of the leaf-peeping season, Steele said, probably until mid-October. RFTA bus service is now only running on weekends and will end at the same time as the fee program. Maroon Creek Road will remain open until snow forces its closure.
Steele said he hopes to start the fee program up again before Memorial Day weekend next year.
Fees collected for entry to the Maroon Lake area are intended to increase interpretive displays and services such as restroom cleaning at Maroon Lake. It’s hoped the money will also allow more trail work and more signs in the area.
None of the funds from visitor fees will be used for construction of new buildings at Maroon Lake. The new bus shelter, which was expected to be open for Labor Day, is now expected to be in use next spring, Steele said.
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