Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons hosted a community conversation on trailhead parking for a small crowd in attendance at the Summit County Community & Senior Center in Frisco on Monday, Oct. 25, providing an update on the Quandary Peak shuttle program that kicked off this summer as well as plans for possible expansion moving forward.
Earlier this year, a group of stakeholders got together to discuss parking issues at trailheads, which has become a growing concern over the past couple of summers and was exacerbated by expanded interest in outdoor recreation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At the beginning of 2020, when our world started to cave in and people tried to find stuff to do in the backcountry, we really saw our parking issues explode,” FitzSimons said. “… So this summer, we decided to take on Quandary because Quandary was getting hammered with (heavy traffic). It really became a problem for public safety, as well, not only for the Sheriff’s Office but certainly for search and rescue … where there were certain times we couldn’t (get) access all the way back on the roads because of the way people were just abandoning their cars in the center of the road.”
The increased traffic to the trailhead is no illusion. Quandary Peak is Colorado’s most popular 14er by far, tallying nearly 50,000 hiker days in 2020 as a growing number of visitors continue to seek out new ways to explore the area’s backcountry.
To solve the problem, Summit County implemented a pilot program that required hikers making their way to the Quandary Peak and McCullough Gulch trailheads to reserve a paid parking space or take a free shuttle from Breckenridge. FitzSimons said despite some skepticism and negativity from community members at the onset of the program, officials believe it was ultimately successful.
FitzSimons said about 3,200 people have reserved spots in the paid lot since it opened July 30, and the shuttle has seen in excess of 20,000 riders to date. He noted that the third-party company hired to facilitate reservations and enforcement has issued a total of 327 citations for people illegally parked in the paid lot.
Summit County Rescue Group members in attendance said the system has helped with their operations in the area, as well.
“The missions we’ve had up there, we’ve just pulled right in,” rescue group spokesperson Anna DeBattiste said.
In addition to the new paid parking and shuttle service to Quandary Peak this year, deputies and community service officers were also tasked with ramping up parking enforcement on county roads near other problem trailheads. FitzSimons said parking enforcement has traditionally taken place only during winter, when officials needed to make sure cars were off the road for snow-plowing operations. But the office has had to take a more proactive approach of late.
“The summer issues were complaint driven,” FitzSimons said. “As people complained about certain areas, we would go in and address those issues, and it seemed to work.”
Officials were also trying to determine where drivers parking illegally were coming from, and many were from out of state. For example, of 105 citations written for people parked on county roads in August near Quandary (87), Wildernest (11), Peaks Trail (4) and Ptarmigan Trail (3), FitzSimons said 53 were registered in Colorado and only a few of those were Summit County residents.
FitzSimons said there would be efforts in the future to provide better messaging to Front Range and out-of-state visitors on local parking requirements, including more consistent signage posted near trailheads, social media campaigns and asking hotels to provide information to their guests.
The Quandary Peak and McCullough Gulch pilot program ends Sunday, Oct. 31, meaning hikers won’t be required to book parking reservations beginning in November, but they also won’t be able to hop on a shuttle.
FitzSimons said stakeholders would regroup this winter to dig into data and discuss how the pilot program went. From there, they’ll ultimately decide whether they want to expand the program to other trails in the county or seek additional solutions to overcrowding.
“We do realize that this is a problem that is countywide,” FitzSimons said. “… We also realize that this isn’t a silver bullet. What worked at Quandary might not work at these other places, but we do now have some sort of success to go back and look at this data to try and make sense of — to see parts and pieces of what might work somewhere else — because I can tell you that it’s not going to get less crowded.”