One of Colorado’s most popular 14ers to see parking permits by July 30
Visitors will need to plan to park at the trailhead using a reservation system or a new shuttle
Summit County officials, along with leaders from the town of Breckenridge, are pushing forward with some strategies to help mitigate the overcrowded parking at the Quandary Peak trailhead, but more work is to be done to ensure surrounding trailheads, including McCullough Gulch, won’t be negatively impacted.
During a Summit Board of County Commissioners work session Tuesday, July 13, Assistant County Manager Bentley Henderson updated the board on how these various strategies are coming together. While some of the measures can be acted on immediately — such as adding an additional 15 to 20 spots to the trailhead’s parking lot, striping the lot to make for more organized parking and improving the surface of the helipad — other strategies are still in the final development stages.
In addition to improving the physical parking lot, Henderson said staff members plan to provide a turnaround at the helipad for the pilot shuttle system and install a robust signage plan notifying visitors that they cannot park along county roads or Colorado Highway 9.
“The signage plan is going to be very comprehensive and is going to include that whole upper basin to ensure that we’re in a position to let folks know that we can’t support and we can no longer tolerate the circumstances … in terms of emergency management and the ability to get emergency vehicles up there,” Henderson said.
In addition to the signage plan, Henderson noted that the county is working with the town of Breckenridge to secure the help of Interstate Parking Co. of Colorado, a third party agency that will coordinate permitted parking, write tickets and fine visitors who are in violation. Henderson said Interstate Parking will take reservations for 45 to 60 spaces.
In addition to enlisting the help of Interstate Parking, Henderson noted that the county will now have the authority to ticket parking along county and state roads.
“If there is a car that’s in the parking area that is not supposed to be there, Interstate Parking will manage that piece of it,” Henderson said. “If there’s a car parked on county roads that’s not supposed to be there, our sheriff’s customer service safety officers will manage that piece of it and ticket those cars. And then we have expanded … our agreements with Colorado State Patrol that we will be able to, as county law enforcement, ticket parking on state Highway (9).”
Because the county is now barring any parking along county roads and Highway 9, Henderson noted that will create a need for the pilot shuttle system. The county has been working in collaboration with the town of Breckenridge, which is planning to offer shuttle parking at Stephen C. West Ice Arena. According to Henderson, the shuttle service is willing to be flexible in the number of trips needed and times offered.
Henderson declined to disclose the name of the shuttle service because details are still being finalized.
All of these efforts are expected to move quickly. Henderson said the county plans to begin an aggressive communication plan ahead of implementing these strategies by July 30.
At the meeting, Dillon District Ranger Adam Bianchi noted that while the conversation is focused on Quandary Peak — which is Colorado’s most popular 14,000-foot mountain — there are still a significant amount of visitors wanting to access the easier McCullough Gulch trailhead about 1 1/2 miles from Quandary Peak’s trailhead. Bianchi voiced concern that limiting parking on the surrounding roads also bars visitors from accessing McCullough Gulch.
Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence voiced support for having the shuttle stop at McCullough Gulch as well as Quandary Peak, and Henderson said he would have conversations with the shuttle operator to see if that would be possible.
Though it could help some, Blue River resident Paul Semmer, who also formerly worked for the Dillon Ranger District, raised concerns that the shuttle system would limit access to locals and visitors who want to access McCullough Gulch spontaneously. The trail is much easier than Quandary Peak; according to the White River National Forest, it’s rated as moderate and is 1.3 miles one way.
Both Lawrence and Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue noted that access to McCullough Gulch was an issue of concern. During the meeting, it was decided that Summit County’s Open Space and Trails department and the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, along with the Dillon Ranger District and town of Breckenridge, will meet and present possible solutions next week.
Open Space and Trails Director Brian Lorch voiced additional concerns, including with the shuttle system, especially because hikers wouldn’t be able to estimate how long they’d be on the mountain and when they’d return. Lorch also expressed the need for a robust messaging plan to market to Front Range visitors as well as visitors across the state.
Lorch also highlighted the volume of visitors the trailhead sees in a given year. Lorch said about 75,000 people visit the trailhead annually, and he asked how the county plans to relay information about the changes to visitors.
One suggestion thrown out during the meeting was to have a phone line with a recorded message that relays some of the changes to visitors and that the number should be posted on signage around and at the trailhead.
“This is going to have to be a really aggressive blitz, if you will, of information because we’re going to basically turn off the tap at the end of July,” Henderson said.
The process is moving quickly because county officials are concerned. Over the weekend, Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District posted a photo on Facebook to show how critical of an issue the overcrowding is at the trailhead. Local officials are worried that emergency vehicles, including Summit County Rescue Group, will not be able to access the trailhead.
Lawrence said the post reminded her that the discussion and strategies put in place are to ensure that emergency response vehicles can access the trailhead should their services be needed.
“When Red, White & Blue did that post, it just reminded me this is really about public safety at the end of the day,” Lawrence said. “It’s not about too many people hiking Quandary or this or that. It’s really about public safety, and that is what we’ve got to address here.”
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