Summit County commissioners frustrated with timeline of ‘short-term’ Quandary Peak solutions

Plan to mitigate overcrowding and parking issues at trailhead won’t be implemented until well into summer or early fall

The trailhead sign for Quandary Peak is pictured May 21. The 14,265-foot peak is one of the most popular 14ers in Colorado, attracting hikers, climbers and skiers year-round, which has led to the two trailhead parking lots overflowing on busy days and creating traffic issues for nearby residents.
Photo by Jason Connolly / Jason Connolly Photography

At the Summit Board of County Commissioners meeting Tuesday, June 29, county staff laid out potential short-term solutions to the board and to officials from the town of Breckenridge to help mitigate some of the overcrowding and parking issues at Quandary Peak and surrounding trailheads. Some of the solutions won’t be implemented until later in the summer or even after Labor Day, frustrating a couple of the commissioners.

Last month, officials heard a presentation from consultants regarding potential solutions for issues at the trailhead, such as parking along county roads and visitors blocking driveways of nearby residential homes. The overcrowding and parking issues have left officials, including Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, deeply concerned that emergency vehicles can’t reach the trailhead during peak uses.

Quandary Peak, one of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks, is by far the most popular 14er, according to recent data presented by the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the board showed support for expanded parking at the Quandary Peak trailhead, which would add up to 20 spots to the lot. The work will likely close a few spots for about a week, maybe less. Assistant County Manager Bentley Henderson noted that the addition of parking would be just one strategy and wouldn’t solve the issue.

Robert Jacobs, road and bridge director and Summit County engineer, recommended the parking project launch after Labor Day when the trailhead’s use begins to die down, much to the frustration of all three commissioners.

Jacobs acknowledged that there could be capacity to expand parking even further but that doing so would require contracted help and the need to move much more material. He also said completing a larger expansion would close the parking lot entirely.

During the meeting, Henderson referenced a previously discussed shuttle system and said there were many points that still needed to be considered before implementing such a measure. During the meeting last month, the board showed support for a pilot shuttle system and suggested running one van this summer to help mitigate the overcrowding.

In order to make that feasible, though, officials said visitors would need to be motivated to take advantage of a shuttle system and that they might not feel the need to do so if they can continue to park on country roads.

During the meeting, officials suggested preventing parking along country roads by enlisting the help of a third party agency, such as Interstate Parking Company of Colorado, that would write tickets and fine visitors, thus making a shuttle system more attractive to visitors. County Commissioner Josh Blanchard noted that if that plan is implemented, it might place a heavy burden on the pilot shuttle system, which is expected to run only one van this season.

Ultimately, it was decided that county staff would continue to explore a pilot shuttle system and try to implement the measure before the end of the season.

Another potential solution discussed was to allow parking only on one side of the country road, a decision that Summit County’s Open Space and Trails’ department supports. Further discussion about the possible solution was put on hold until feedback could be gathered from law enforcement.

In addition to exploring some kind of pilot shuttle system and expanding parking, Lawrence also voiced support for a parking reservation system.

“I think that’s really the key to all of this is to have parking management,” Lawrence said. “It does work; there’s tons of data out there that shows that. Oftentimes, people will, and do, find another way. Oftentimes, it’s not always the most convenient, but if this is something they want to accomplish, then they will plan ahead or they should be planning ahead, not just traveling up there on a whim.”

Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula asked town and county officials about the possibility of limiting the number of cars at the trailhead altogether, but Dillon District Ranger Adam Bianchi said the U.S. Forest Service doesn’t like to limit access on public land. Still, Mamula said he’d like to see the county take some measures to do so anyway.

“The county has a finite infrastructure setup that allows people to access the peak, so I don’t think it is the county’s job to make sure that you can load as many people as possible on that trail just because that trail can sustain it,” Mamula said.

“And there’s probably a certain percentage of the people that do end up there that really don’t know what they’re doing … where people are ill-prepared in flip-flops and a bottle of Aquafina at 2 in the afternoon,” he continued. “… I don’t think the county — and to a certain extent, the town — should think about this as an infrastructure challenge to get as many people as possible up there. I think the county works within the confines of … the law. You don’t allow parking on county roads currently, so I wouldn’t allow that up there as well.”

Though there is movement on some of these solutions, County Commissioners Elisabeth Lawrence and Tamara Pogue expressed disappointed in how long it’s taking to implement a solution this season.

“I’m a little bit frustrated that we’re now six weeks later, and we have yet to begin,” Pogue said.

Lawrence agreed.

“I just can’t express the sense of urgency I feel on this only because we have been working on this, really hardcore, since spring of 2019 … and it’s just continuing to have more and more problems,” Lawrence said. “So whatever we can do quickly to mitigate some of this and get some of these measures in place, I would certainly appreciate.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.