New tenting charges for Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness coming

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Beginning next year, campers heading to some of the most popular locations in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness will need to reserve and pay for a permit in advance at recovery.gov.

The US Forest Service is implementing the new reservation fee system in 2023 to try to limit use and protect certain uncrowded areas – the Four Pass Loop, Geneva Lake and Capitol Lake. Conundrum Hot Springs already has a permit and fee system in place.

For example, Snowmass Lake, part of the Four Pass Loop, exceeds the reasonable number of people camping in that area 100 days a year, said Katy Nelson, the wilderness and trail program coordinator for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District. “Exceeded capacity most nights of the season.”

The new system will require campers to obtain an overnight permit in these areas of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness year-round. During peak season from May 1st to October 31st there is a charge of $10 per night per person plus a $6 processing fee for each permit. There is no charge for children up to 16 years old.

According to the forest service, the number of visitors to these areas has quadrupled since 2006. Rangers pack away a few hundred pounds of trash every year, Nelson said. Dangerous human-wildlife interactions are frequently reported, and people are damaging trees and soil, she said.

Nelson said it got to the point where visitors stopped them on the Four Pass Loop and asked if there was another place to stay because they heard Snowmass Lake was gross. “That was really profound for me,” Nelson said. “If visitors say that – this is one of the most beautiful places we have and even visitors say that this place needs help.”

The Forest Service has been exploring the possibility of some form of reservation system in these high-traffic areas since adopting an overnight visitor management plan in 2017. The Conundrum Hot Springs area was the first place to introduce an overnight fee and reservation system.

Conundrum’s permits and fees have helped, Nelson said. “At Conundrum, it took me a couple of years to get in there and do a full rehab,” she said. “It’s a lot of work and it takes time to recover; For a short time, in that first season, visitors had the opportunity to have a different experience there.”

Prior to the reservation and fee system, Nelson said rangers in the Aspen-Sopris district would draw straws to see who needs to patrol Conundrum. That’s no longer the case, she said.

District Ranger Kevin Warner said the forest service is only implementing these reservation systems where they’re really needed, but that other wilderness areas in the state may see such systems in the future.

“We’ve heard loud and clear that the public wants us to make this area a premier backcountry destination by addressing this overuse and environmental degradation,” Warner said in a statement. “This overnight permitting and charging program is critical in providing us with the resources we need to effectively manage, restore and protect this valued territory.”

Permits for the Four Pass Loop, Geneva Lake and Capitol Lake will be available at recovery.gov in February; including Conundrum Hot Springs, these areas make up approximately 28% of the Maroon-Bells Snowmass Wilderness, according to the Forest Service.

The Forest Service will use the money from the fees to better maintain these areas, from rehabilitation and restoration work to trail maintenance and improved trailhead information. No permit is required for day visitors.

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