Wedding bells ring at Maroon Bells |

Wedding bells ring at Maroon Bells

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

ASPEN Wedding bells are ringing this summer at the Maroon Bells.The cash-strapped U.S. Forest Service decided this year to begin renting the amphitheater at Maroon Lake for weddings and other special events as a way to raise funds to manage public lands.The rental opportunity at the spectacular setting on the edge of protected wilderness lands comes with multiple restrictions. You won’t hear songs, for example, by an Elvis impersonator.”We’re not turning into Las Vegas, believe me,” said Martha Moran, recreation manager for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District.The amphitheater was underused, Moran said. Attendance was poor at nature talks by guides from the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies at the amphitheater last summer. People wanted to wander around and soak in the splendor or Maroon Lake once they arrived there rather than sit some more and listen to a lecture.

So as part of an updated business plan for this summer, the Forest Service decided to make the amphitheater available for special events. It’s available on the White River National Forest website for $175 for two hours. There is a limit of 100 people per event. Wedding ceremonies are OK, but wedding receptions are prohibited.The amphitheater is open from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, snow conditions permitting.Vehicular restrictions still apply to special events. Maroon Creek Road is closed to traffic between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., and there is a $10 fee from 7-9 a.m., and from 5-7 p.m. Renting facilities entitles the renters to only five vehicle passes. If more than five vehicles are needed to transport guests, they must ride the buses that serve the Bells or hire a shuttle company.Moran said Maroon Bells Manager Peggy Jo Trish has been overwhelmed with requests – even though the service is new this summer and it only being touted by word-of-mouth and via the forest website. Five weddings have taken place there so far this summer, including one Saturday evening.All rental proposals are screened carefully for compliance with the rules.

“Full details of your wedding/event must be disclosed and approved prior to day of event, during the application process,” the forest website says. “This includes items you want to bring onto the site, such as chairs, tables, food, etc. Keep in mind that any event held on Forest Service land must be conducted with the least impact possible.”The availability of Maroon Lake amphitheater for weddings comes at a time when other suitable outdoor sites are disappearing. The Elk Mountain Lodge, a popular facility in the Castle Creek Valley, is being converted into a private residence.Moran said she hasn’t received objections from the public about renting the amphitheater. Nevertheless, fees for use of public lands is often a touchy subject. Some organizations oppose fees at places like Maroon Lake because they say taxpayers have already paid for access to the public lands. Other foes fear fees represent commercialization of public lands.”We’re not Disney-fying it,” Moran said. “I totally believe we’re not.”She said some critics expect the Forest Service to be strictly stewards of public lands, not businesspeople. But the agency must be “creative” in finding enough revenues to manage the national forest properly, she said.

Without revenues from fees at the Maroon Bells, the popular recreation area would soak up nearly all recreation funding the Aspen-Sopris District receives annually, according to Moran. Visitors to the Bells paid about $182,000 in fees in the 2006 fiscal year.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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