Last summer turned out to be a banner year for trail traffic in Summit County. This year tends to be the same, according to local experts.
As attractions such as movie theaters and concert halls closed their doors, Coloradians and visitors from the United States flocked to Summit County to take advantage of its opportunities for outdoor recreation. Brian Lorch, Summit County’s director of open spaces and trails, said he expects these visit rates to hold steady based on the initial trends in trail traffic this year.
“Last year what we saw was in the range of a 50% increase in our use on the trail (Summit County recreation), and some trailheads we saw up to 80% increase from what we saw in our traffic counters, ”Lorch mentioned. “It was unique. In the past we have seen a 10-20% increase, but never anything like what we saw last year. This year we don’t have our trail counter data yet, but for the record I’d say we’re heading for numbers similar to last year’s in 2020. “
Data for all recreation areas is being collected and likely won’t be available until fall, but that doesn’t mean local experts weren’t ready for this wave of visitors. Lorch said there are ongoing efforts to review some of the most popular trailheads to ensure public safety and environmental concerns do not arise.
“The county (has been working) with the forest service and our sheriff’s office and all the towns since the start of this year, (and we) have met regularly with a parking group to look at issues throughout the county. , looking at each of the different starting points, “Lorch said.” And our intention is to go to all of those starting points and identify some of the problems and practical alternatives to solve any of these problems. “
Some of the more popular trails are those that include some type of body of water, like a lake or a waterfall, and it’s usually an added bonus if these hikes are family-friendly as well. Some of the most popular hikes in the county include Quandary Peak and McCullough Gulch outside of Breckenridge, Rainbow Lake in Frisco and Cataract Lake, and Boulder Lake in Silverthorne.
Mitigation efforts have already been launched to reduce some of the traffic at the start of these trails, most targeting parking. Cindy Ebbert, trails and wilderness manager for the Dillon Ranger District, said parking lot overflow at the trailheads can cause a host of problems.
“Overcrowding causes parking problems along county and city roads, which are often adjacent to neighborhoods, creating problems for the people who live there,” Ebbert said. “Overcrowding on the trails themselves can damage natural resources and can also impact the experiences of the visitors they seek.”
Quandary Peak and McCullough Gulch mitigation efforts have begun, including a shuttle system and licensed parking. These new measures will begin at the end of the month.
Another strategy used to alleviate parking problems is to provide various access points around the community, which the town of Breckenridge has already started, according to Anne Lowe, responsible for open spaces and trails for the town.
“We don’t have a lot of trailheads with a lot of parking and so our focus of our open space and trail program over the years has always been to try and provide connections to our network wherever people go. live or stay, ”Lowe said. . “We have 130 portals, or access points, in and around the town of Breckenridge that bring you to a trail.”
Going forward, Pete Swenson, manager of open spaces and trails for the town of Frisco, said he wanted cities and the county to build more trails. Swenson said that, from his perspective, the problem was not with the additional users on the trail, but rather with the impacts of parking. He thinks more track mileage would help with that.
“That’s what we’re looking for here, these are real solutions, not band-aids,” Swenson said. “The only solution to the overcrowding and increased usage is to increase the portal, starting points and overall mileage. As a land manager I would say the land managers, the outdoor industry, the forestry services, many of us have let the American public down in terms of increased trail mileage and departures. of trails to public lands.
Swenson and Lowe both reported that trail traffic was on the rise, anecdotally. Neither had data as it is still being collected.
Lorch noted that it’s not always straightforward when it comes to discussing trail traffic and said the term “overcrowded” means different things to different people. When the county sent out polls for Quandary Peak and the Dillon Reservoir Recreation Area, Lorch said it was clear there were two different perspectives at play.
“Perceptions are different depending on who you talk to,” Lorch said. “We are certainly much more appalled by the number of people from the area than by visitors who are here for the first time or people from the Front Range. “
Lowe said she sees this same problem playing out.
“Overpopulation can mean very different things to different people,” Lowe said. “I think a lot of the overcrowding can come down to the user experience. When we have locals who have lived here for 25-30 years and are used to having the trail all to themselves, now to start seeing people on the trails it could mean overcrowding for one person, compared to one. visitor coming from the Front Range where they have a lot of traffic on their trails almost every day, this is normal. Their user experience is something different and they might not think it’s overcrowded or crowded on the trails.
As to how to balance these two perspectives and needs, Lorch said that was the “million dollar question.” The City of Breckenridge and County are currently working on master plans for their open spaces and trails to help identify solutions moving forward.