Consultants present potential solutions to mitigate overcrowding issues at Quandary Peak and nearby trailheads
As events were canceled last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, other activities — like hiking Quandary Peak, McCullough Gulch and Blue Lakes trails — skyrocketed in popularity. The influx of visitors to these areas last summer caused a barrage of issues like speeding, congestion, lack of parking and safety concerns.
As the summer season kicks into high gear, Summit County officials are rushing to approve measures that will mitigate some of these issues. During a Summit Board of County Commissioners work session meeting Tuesday, May 18, officials heard a presentation from OTAK, a third-party engineering and project management firm based in Portland, Oregon, and RRC Associates, a market research firm based out of Boulder.
The presentation kicked off with an introduction from Summit County Open Space and Trails Director Brian Lorch, who noted that Quandary Peak presents challenges because of its popularity among visitors.
“One of the key challenges is that Quandary Peak is one of the most successful and desired of the 14ers,” Lorch said. “We have the issue that we are the busiest of the 14ers at Quandary, and displacement of use is not really a viable option. We can’t really just say, ‘go try a harder one’ or ‘go to another parking lot’ or ‘go do another trail’ because people are coming specifically for this destination.”
Mandi Roberts, who is vice president and principal of OTAK and the project lead for the presentation, said the data collected focused mostly on trailhead congestion and parking issues. To collect the data, the team conducted a few surveys and set up traffic counters in the area trailheads of Quandary Peak, Upper McCullough Gulch Trail and Lower McCullough Gulch Trail.
While presenting the data, Roberts highlighted a few key findings and suggestions to county officials.
First, Roberts and her team determined that it was too soon to implement a reservation system or to set visitor capacity restrictions but that those options might be something to revisit in the future. Her report stated that the number of people on the trails was not as much of a concern as the number of vehicles parked in the area.
Roberts said her team worked with the Colorado State Patrol and Colorado Department of Transportation to see whether parking could be allowed along Colorado Highway 9. Ultimately, officials remained firm that the road was not safe for parking, but it was unclear who would enforce the rule.
Roberts called existing parking areas problematic and said there were opportunities to expand parking capacity. She told officials that parking management and enforcement are needed.
Another potential solution suggested in the survey was a shuttle or transit system to the trailheads, though it came with some caveats. Roberts said it is likely that demand would be limited to peak times, which could pose operational challenges. She also noted in her report that hiking a 14er can be uncertain, especially in the case of inclement weather, which could pose additional challenges to a shuttle system.
Other potential solutions Roberts recommended were staffing volunteers or part-time employees in the area to help direct traffic, spreading awareness about some of the parking challenges through visitor information, enforcing parking regulations to prohibit parking in unwanted areas, purchasing more property for parking and increasing signage in the area.
At the conclusion of Robert’s presentation, officials noted it was important to make a swift decision about the area and mention some of the comments from community members, some of which referenced additional issues not addressed by the recommended strategies.
One community member brought up speeding in the area and another was concerned that campers cause wildfire risks. Jeff Grabham, who lives in the area, said five visitors had parked in his driveway just the previous weekend. Grabham said he had to call police to help with the congestion.
Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence agreed the news was concerning.
“My goal is what can be done in the immediate short term because the fact that we had problems last weekend in mud season is certainly disturbing, and that’s setting up our trends for the upcoming summer,” Lawrence said. “And so we really need to decide what’s an immediate short-term (solution) that we can do right now to provide some relief for people who live out there because, certainly, you should not have people blocking your driveway and parking in your driveway.”
Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue echoed Lawrence’s thoughts.
“This is a public safety issue, and in a public safety issue, we cannot afford to take a great deal of time to implement solutions,” Pogue said. “It is obvious in the number of neighbors that are here today that this is a public safety issue. It’s not just a nuisance issue, and we can’t allow another summer to go like summer went.”
Pogue said she drove to the area in May 2020 because she had heard complaints from neighbors.
“I was there at 5:30 a.m., and I couldn’t find a place to park,” Pogue said. “It was chaos, to put it mildly, and I am not comfortable with that level of risk for folks in our community, so my hope for next week is that folks will come with immediate solutions to this problem that will make a meaningful difference for our residents.”
County officials are expected to review the presentation and data and begin making decisions about potential solutions at a Board of County Commissioners work session meeting at noon Tuesday, May 25.
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