Popularity of Vail’s Booth Falls hike leads to damage, parking issues, grumpy neighbors
May 18, 2017
VAIL — One of the great hikes in Vail is the trek to Booth Falls. But the popularity of the trail has led to damage, parking troubles and grumpy neighbors.
The trouble in the East Vail neighborhood came to a head in the summer of 2016. Construction at Vail Mountain School closed the parking lot for the season. That put a number of parked cars on the frontage road, as well as in the neighborhood near the trailhead.
The Vail Town Council on Tuesday talked with Holy Cross District Ranger Aaron Mayville about steps this year aimed to ease trail and parking congestion.
At about the top of the list is education. The Vail Police Department and U.S. Forest Service will both work with the town’s information centers, businesses, hotel concierges and others to provide information about both bus service and alternative hikes in the area. The idea, Mayville said, is to disperse some of the current use on the Booth Falls trail to “other, very good hikes” in the East Vail area.
While Booth Falls is an access point to the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, most of the use is day hikes to the falls. But, Mayville said, his primary task is to try to maintain a balance between day use — including lots of dogs — and preserving the nature of the wilderness.
A bit like Hanging Lake
Trail crowding is becoming a more serious issue throughout the White River National Forest, of which the Holy Cross district is a part. The most serious situation is the trail to Hanging Lake, which starts in Glenwood Canyon. That trail has become so popular that the Forest Service has hired a seasonal ranger to help police the area, and bus service will run hikers into the parking area.
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Mayville said one of the biggest problems with Hanging Lake is that there are no nearby alternative trails. A Forest Service handout lists six trails in the Vail area.
Trail traffic can also damage the trails themselves. Mayville said a standard trail is between 18 inches and 24 inches wide. Too much traffic will damage and widen those trails, which are difficult to repair.
Mayville said the local Adopt a Trail program, entering its second season this year, has the potential to help with both repairs and putting uniformed volunteers out on the trail.
But there’s street traffic before there can be trail traffic.
In addition to more signs — particularly about parking restrictions — the town has also beefed up its summer bus service. Town buses will stop near the trailhead every 30 minutes during daytime hours this year.
Vail Police Sgt. Craig Bettis told the council that parking in the area should be less of a problem this year. And, he added, there will be signs, cones and other traffic controls in the neighborhood. Enforcement may include tickets issued in marked no-parking zones.
Inconveniencing guests, residents
The update was good news to council members.
Mayor Dave Chapin noted that traffic last year “was a safety problem, an inconvenience for guests and residents.”
The update was also good news to Steve Prawolzic, of the Booth Falls Homeowners Association.
“It’s nice to hear the council is taking action,” Prawolzic said, complimenting the council for “working on a solution acceptable to the neighborhood.”
Prawolzic told the council that it’s crucial to have officers in the area during high-use periods.
“We have 18 available (parking) spots to handle 300 or 400 people,” he said. It’s essential to de-emphasize driving to the trailhead, Prawolzic added.
“We need to stress that if you’re going to (hike), you have to park in the structures and take the bus,” he said.
Both Forest Service and town officials will monitor traffic and trail use this season. The council should see a report on the summer’s activity in the fall.