The smiling faces coming out of the upper Maroon Bells parking lot said it all: Full access to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area is back.
With Congress coming to an agreement Thursday night to get back to business as usual, the orange barriers that blocked the upper parking lot were removed just after 10 a.m. Thursday.
There will be one restroom open for the public, but all running water has been shut off because of cold weather. The ranger pay station will remain closed, as it normally would be at this time of the year.
Peggy Jo Trish works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is the manager of the Maroon Bells. Much like Thursday morning’s visitors to the Bells, Trish and her fellow employees were happy to be back after a 16-day layoff.
“These past couple weeks have been a nightmare,” Trish said. “Today is a good day. I’m so happy the public can enjoy the end of the fall season now.”
Trish said the electronic sign near the Aspen schools would be on this weekend to let people know the area is open.
Brian Porter is a visitor information technician for the Forest Service and was all smiles to be at work.
“It’s weird to be back at work and be so happy about it,” Porter said.
Within 30 minutes of the barriers being removed, half of the upper parking lot was filled and many delighted visitors could be seen walking the short distance to Maroon Lake.
The parking lot had license plates from Missouri, New York, Texas, Nevada, Florida, Michigan and Colorado.
Lisa Pullman was visiting Aspen with three friends from Michigan. They had booked their trip long in advance and were very disappointed to read that the Bells access was limited. They all kept their fingers crossed for an end to the government shutdown and were ecstatic to hear the news Thursday morning.
“We all had a feeling the timing might work out for us,” Pullman said. “We’re thrilled that we got to share this incredible day and experience together.”
John and Vickie Moots, of Oklahoma, were staying in Aspen to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. They were the first people to drive past the barriers and into the upper parking lot. When they walked up to Maroon Lake, they were the only people there.
“It was amazing,” John Moots said. “We had no idea what to expect when we were driving up here. We’re staying at the Mountain Chalet, and the folks there told us to expect a short walk to the lake. We watched someone from the county move the barriers and unlock the bathrooms.”
With no wind and fresh snow on the Bells, it was a picture-perfect moment for the Moots.
“We’re so lucky and blessed,” Vickie Moots said. “We heard stories about maybe having to go up in a bus, but we were so glad we could drive instead. The area looked pristine and sparkly.”