Cyclists can breathe easy without worrying about a fee to ride to Maroon Lake for the foreseeable future, according to White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams.
“I can tell you — we are not entertaining bike fees right now,” Fitzwilliams said. “We’re not proposing a new system with a bike fee.”
Fitzwilliams is the top official in the sprawling White River National Forest, one of the most popular forests for recreation in the country. He commented for the first time Monday on a recommendation last week by the Colorado Recreation Resource Advisory Committee for the Forest Service to look into a fee for cyclists riding to the Maroon Lake facilities. Committee members said it is a fairness issue because motorists are charged a fee and cyclists aren’t.
Many Aspenites quickly denounced the idea. The ride to Maroon Lake is a favorite summer activity for Aspen visitors and residents because there is limited traffic on the road. Between 200 and 300 cyclists ride to the lake on a typical summer day, according to the Forest Service.
Cyclists said they are doing nothing to harm the environment. Some noted that bus service was started to Maroon Lake in 1983 because the ecosystem was getting choked to death by car exhaust.
All traffic is restricted between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. from mid-June to Labor Day. Visitors must take a bus during those hours. People can drive during spring and fall offseasons and before or after the summer hours as long as they pay a $10 fee.
The Colorado Recreation Resource Advisory Committee is a relatively obscure board that advises the regional forest supervisor on issues related to fees on national forests. Fitzwilliams didn’t attend the board’s meeting in Glenwood Springs last week but was briefed on the issue.
While he doesn’t support a bike fee, Fitzwilliams said the fairness issue raised by the advisory committee is valid. Visitors are charged a fee for the use of facilities at Maroon Lake, which include drinking fountains, bathrooms, picnic areas and trails. If cyclists are using facilities, it’s not unreasonable for them to contribute — “not in a fee way but in another way,” Fitzwilliams said.
At the moment, he doesn’t have suggestions on an alternative, but he wants to throw the challenge and the opportunity out there for the cycling community.
“Is there something the biking community could do?” he asked.
The solution isn’t ending the fee for all visitors, Fitzwilliams said. The $10 fee on motorists helps raise the money needed to operate the Maroon Lake facilities. The Public Lands Recreation Enhancement Act allows the agency to charge a fee when facilities are offered and keep the proceeds to operate the facilities. Fitzwilliams said the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District staff is doing a fantastic job running the Maroon Bells facilities on a shoestring budget.
“The taxpayers are getting a steal for their dollars,” he said.
The advisory committee’s recommendation has been forwarded to the regional supervisor’s office, but Fitzwilliams said his bosses wouldn’t want a fee implemented without the cycling community buying into it. He said he would brief the regional supervisor about the issue in a meeting this month.
“I think they’ll be very supportive of where we’re at,” he said.