By Jamie Leary

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – One of Colorado’s most popular 14ers could be the next area in the Centennial State to see permits or fees to help manage the growing crowds. While the changes are merely a discussion, experts say the crowds are anticipated to increase in the coming years and something needs to change to prevent the area from being “loved to death.”

(credit: CBS)

“I think that it’s probably going to continue based on the long term trends that we have. Not just something that is going to come and go because of COVID or something. I think it’s a long term trend we’re seeing even more use in Summit County, and so we just need to make sure we try and take care of the natural resources the best we can,” said Cory Richardson, district recreation staff officer for the USDA Forest Service.

The Forest Service is one of several stakeholders working to study solutions — but there are many more. Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado Springs Utilities, Summit County Managers, the Summit County Sheriff’s Department, Summit County Open Space, the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, the National Forest Foundation, Friends of Dillon Ranger District, and the Town of Breckenridge along with Blue River Residents adjacent to the Quandary Trailhead; all worked together to conduct a three month study exploring possible management solutions.

(credit: CBS)

The ideas the groups came up with are merely topics for discussion at this point. The groups are seeking public input through a survey spearheaded by Summit County.

“I think the main area of emphasis for Summit County is the incredible demands our locals and visitors are placing on Quandary and a number of other trailheads within Summit County. We really want to explore how we can address impacts around parking, safety and overuse/damage. We hope to take some info from this project and apply it to other high use trailheads in the county,” said Scott Vargo, Summit County Manager.

Stakeholders came up with a list of top hypothetical solutions it hopes the public will take part in. Some of the recreationalists can expect to weigh in on include:

  1. Establishing a permitting system: A permit system would limit the use of Quandary Peak and can range from charging a parking fee at the established parking lot to regulating the number of daily hikers.
  2. Creating a shuttle service: A free shuttle service that would pick up and drop off hikers would alleviate illegal parking concerns.
  3. Providing more educational opportunities: There is great potential for educational opportunities and outreach at the trailhead to address issues such as “Leave No Trace” principles, renegade trails, littering, backcountry etiquette and safety.

While majority of stakeholders surveyed were interested in a permitting system, the Forest Service said fees and permits aren’t the go-to solution.

“That’s not something that we necessarily want to jump to, I think there’s a lot of ways to address the issues, and so it’s going to take some more collaborative planning on the part of the group,” said Richardson.

Quandary Peak is located in the White River National Forest and is one of the more accessible and popular fourteeners in Colorado, located just 20 minutes from downtown Breckenridge.

(credit: CBS)

“We’ve seen numbers increase pretty drastically,” Richardson said. “Last year the Colorado Fourteeners initiative trail counter at Quandary Peak counted 48,169 visitors.”

The survey involves not only Quandary, but its two popular nearby trailheads: McCullough Gulch Trail and Blue Lakes area.

“The McCullough Gulch Trail counter counted 10,000 visitors and so those are a lot of visitors that are in these areas and it’s awesome that that many people are getting out, but sometimes with that many people on the landscape, it can lead to addition resource concerns,” he said.

(photo credit: Jim Collins)

Outdoor enthusiasts won’t see any changes this year. The process will be a long one with ample opportunity for public input. It could pave the way for discussion about other areas seeing an increase in users.

More information on the proposed solutions can be found here. To take the survey, click here.

Jamie Leary