With sunny skies ahead of snow, Dillon Ranger District expects busy Labor Day weekend outdoors
All of district's reservable campsites already booked
SILVERTHORNE – As summer winds down, this Labor Day weekend in Summit County expects to be a busy one on trails and public lands ahead of early September snow Monday night into Tuesday.
Shelly Grail, acting Dillon District Ranger, said the district expects large crowds on White River National Forest land for many reasons. Grail said this summer has “felt busier” across the district compared to the summer of 2019. She said the district has noticed an increase in activities such as mountain biking, backpacking and fly-fishing in Summit County as people have spent more time outside during the novel coronavirus pandemic and shutdown.
“We can at least point some of that to COVID and some of it to the free time people have found as a result of how we’ve had to respond to COVID,” Grail said.
“We’ve seen a fairly busy summer from the beginning,” Grail added. “…Normal hotspots have seen a steady stream of people. People need to be prepared to have a Plan B, a Plan C (this weekend).”
Grail said the district also expects high demand for White River National Forest campgrounds and sites. Grail said all of the district’s reservable campsites — 70% of campsites district-wide — are already booked for the weekend. Other campsites in the county include first-come, first-served and dispersed camping, which are non-designated camping locations in the White River National Forest where vegetation has been impacted.
Around Dillon Reservoir, all campgrounds are reservable except Pine Cove. At Green Mountain Reservoir, Cow Creek South is the only reservable site.
“What we’ve seen this summer is people tend to come up on Thursday or earlier, or at least before the weekend to secure camp spots,” Grail said. “With the beautiful weather and with more flexibility with people’s work and school schedules, we’ve seen an uptick in use before the weekends.”
Despite some recent precipitation and improved air quality, the district remains in Stage 2 fire restrictions, which means no campfires at campgrounds or sites.
As for hiking trails, Grail said to expect any trailheads around town to be busy and crowded by the peak hiking start time of 9 a.m. She recommended going to trails further away from town as many members of the public have come to expect crowded trailheads and have been adjusting their start times earlier.
In terms of some of the district’s busiest trailheads — such as the Blue River locations of Spruce Creek and the trailhead leading up to Quandary Peak by Hoosier Pass — Friends of the Dillon Ranger District Programs Manager Doozie Martin encourages recreators to find new trails to explore. He agreed that he’s been seeing more people earlier in the day at such locations as Oro Grande in Dillon, the Rainbow Lake trailhead at Zach’s Stop in Frisco, Meadow Creek in Frisco, Lily Pad Lake in Wildernest and Spruce Creek in Blue River.
“I can’t really blame anybody after the spring we had, but it’s definitely increasing in the amount of people that we’ve seen,” Martin said. “It remains to be seen in the fall and winter, but people are loving the outdoors.”
Lloyd Athearn, the executive director of the Colorado Fourtneers Initiative, said he couldn’t speak specific to data from this summer on Quandary Peak. The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative recently released its report for the summer of 2019 that showed Quandary again was the most hiked 14,000-foot mountain in Colorado.
Using a pair of the group’s trail counters — one on the standard East Slopes route and a second on the less-climbed West Ridge — CFI estimated 35,055 hiker days, and potentially up to 40,000, on Quandary between May 29 and Oct. 7, 2019. Quandary also registered the busiest single day recorded last year for hiking on any 14er, Aug. 3, when 1,090 people climbed the peak between Breckenridge and Hoosier Pass to the south.
What makes Quandary’s 2019 numbers more impressive is CFI’s estimation of the number of hikers on the mountain decreased less than other 14,000-foot peaks from 2018 to 2019. That’s despite the huge increase in lingering snowpack into July 2019 compared to the year prior. Quandary was estimated at 38,000 hiker days in 2018, just 3,000 more year-over-year compared to, say, larger decreases of 5,000 or more hikers on popular 14,000-foot peaks like Mount Bierstadt.
Athearn said it’s too early to statistically start to gauge Quandary’s crowds for this summer, though he said CFI has noticed higher numbers this summer via counters they’ve already checked on Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks in the San Juan Mountains.
“Unfortunately we will be closer on into October and November until we have most of our counters pulled and will then have a better sense of the whole season,” Athearn said.
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