ASPEN — Park officials in Colorado have announced that bus service to a scenic area in White River National Forest will likely not be operational this summer amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Park supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams made the announcement Thursday, citing plans to find alternative scenarios for people to enjoy the Maroon Bells Scenic Area, southwest of Aspen, The Aspen Times reported.
The U.S. Forest Service and its partners have started to look into a reservation system that would allow a limited number of private vehicles to drive up the popular destination, Fitzwilliams said. The number of vehicles allowed would be determined by the number of parking spots available, he said.
There are about 60 day-use parking spaces, 27 overnight visitor spaces and 30 overflow spaces.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Fitzwilliams said. But “the shuttle system is not an option, at least not at this time.”
The agency has a bus service agreement with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority that previously restricted private vehicles during summer days and into fall, but with an increasing number of COVID-19 cases, public transportation is not recommended.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.
The use of private vehicles is intended to continue accommodating visitors without overwhelming the road or compromising safety, Fitzwilliams said. The buses would have prohibited packing in passengers to comply with social-distancing regulations.
“It can be done safely but I don’t think it can be done economically,” Fitzwilliams said.
Developed facilities on the national forest, such as the bathrooms at Maroon Bells, are currently closed by order of the Rocky Mountain Region of the Forest Service until June 1, but can be opened sooner as long as facilities comply with social distancing.
More details are expected in the coming weeks.
Fitzwilliams said “98% of the forest is still as open as it ever was.”