High use creating real challenges
The local Forest Service office has turned down a request by the Mountain Express to run buses between Gothic and Judd Falls this summer. The municipal bus service has been running buses between Crested Butte and Gothic the last several summers and the idea was to go the extra mile and provide service to what is becoming a crowded trailhead at the road leading to Judd Falls.
Gunnison Forest district ranger John Murphy informed the Mountain Express on March 2 that the request would be declined based on three points.
In a letter to the Mountain Express, Murphy detailed the reasons:
“Alpine Express and Dolly’s Mountain Shuttle currently provide service to Judd Falls trailhead. Both are under USFS permit. A non-fee service could impact their Crested Butte based business.
“Forest Service Road 713 between Gothic and the Judd Falls Trailhead is established as a level III road and is being maintained to that standard.
“A new dedicated bus only turn around area with exclusive use by your company would not provide a legitimate service to the public in an area already congested as noted in your letter.”
The Forest Service defines maintenance level III roads as “roads open and maintained for travel by a prudent driver in a standard passenger car. User comfort and convenience are not considered priorities.”
“Roads in this maintenance level are typically low speed with single lanes and turnouts,” Murphy explained.
Murphy indicated that two local shuttle businesses running to the Maroon Pass parking lot by Judd Falls seem to provide an opportunity for public transportation to the area. The agency did not ask for or get comments from the other permitted shuttle services.
“There is no appeal process and we would be unwilling to entertain additional shuttle services because it would be pulling business away from existing outfitters,” explained Murphy. “They also wanted to have the road upgraded from Gothic to Judd Falls and they wanted an exclusive turn around parking lot for their service. There is no room for an exclusive turn around and we have no desire to upgrade the road.”
“Right now the Mountain Express doesn’t have a comment,” said transit manager Chris Larsen. “We will discuss it at the board meeting on Thursday. The board was given the decision letter as part of their packet.”
Murphy admitted the Judd Falls area is getting more and more crowded and “the extensive use at Judd Falls is a concern.”
That increasing use is a concern for the scientists at Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory as well.
“The East River Valley desperately needs increased management. We’ve seen the loss of meadows to parking lots and the lack of enough bathrooms has led to high levels of human fecal waste around popular areas,” said RMBL director Ian Billick. “Hikers and bikers on 401 can often see a haze over the valley from dust kicked up by traffic. The high levels of use create real challenges for both research and other historic uses of the valley.
“Expanding public transportation to the valley can not only help cut down on the traffic and loss of meadows, but also provides opportunities to manage the flow of visitors,” Billick continued. “With support from the towns and the county, Mountain Express took real leadership on this issue when they began providing bus service to Gothic. While the current decision is a step backwards, we hope that the USFS will continue to work with the other stakeholders to bring meaningful management to the valley.”
Murphy said while shuttle services do alleviate traffic and parking, there are already two shuttle services that can get people to the Judd Falls trailhead.
Larsen said the initial plan for the summer is to run bus service to Gothic Monday through Friday next summer. There won’t be any weekend service. Larsen said that schedule was at the request of the RMBL and was not at all related to the Judd Falls decision.