Guest commentary: The other side of the mountains
Capitol, Snowmass and the Maroon Bells. You know these mountains, iconic representatives of the mighty Elk Range. This is the backdrop which you have chosen to live your lives, whether you are a skier, hiker, worker, miner, artist or whatever. The value of this mountain kingdom was recognized by inclusion in the very first Wilderness Act of 1964.
That designation has not been sufficient to protect the area from being loved to death. In the Roaring Fork Valley, many policies have since been adopted to reduce visitor impact, which is now concentrated on the wilderness threshold areas. On the other side of the mountains, the Crystal Valley does not have such protection.
On the Aspen side, the most popular area, the Maroon Bells, is protected during the heaviest visitation season by elimination of cars and provision of bus access. Now even a lower impact method of visitation, e-bikes, is seen to need regulation.
Snowmass Village, a wilderness threshold community, has a similar protection with an intercept lot and bus transportation. The backcountry is now seen as needing to be protected from overuse, whether from an already enacted permit system for Conundrum Hot Springs or proposed quotas for the Four Pass Loop.
On the other side of the mountains, the Lead King Loop is an access point for Capitol, Snowmass and the Maroon Bells. Rather than being seen as a valuable alternative from the crowds on the other side, it is being mismanaged as a racetrack for assault vehicles: ATVs and trail bikes. Lower impact users, both long-term locals and visitors, are discouraged from using this access due to noise, dust, trail erosion and intimidation by aggressive drivers.
Two miles up the Lead King Loop, a moderate hike up North Lost Trail Creek brings you to Avalanche Pass where the spectacular view opens up to the Pierre Lakes basin and Capitol Peak. Further along the Lead King Loop is the Geneva Lake Trailhead. An easy 4-mile hike takes you to the lake at the foot of Snowmass Peak, a much shorter approach than from the other side. Did you know that Geneva Lake used to be known as Little Snowmass Lake? A couple miles further along the Lead King Loop, at Lead King Basin, is the trailhead to the backside of the Bells, through the magnificent uncrowded Fravert Basin.
Shouldn’t these alternative access points to the same mountains be valued more in a management plan than high-impact recreation immediately adjacent to wilderness? History has determined that this area is now managed by a distant county government with much less environmental awareness. But you all have voices, and this is your back yard. It is your same mountains, just the other side.
Alex Menard is a Marble historian and addresses these comments to his Pitkin County friends.