Aurora's Robin Brilz has visited Mount Evans hundreds of times — at least once or twice a year annually for more than 50 years.
Until the pandemic and all its complications prevented her and thousands of others from seeing the summit last year.
The Mount Evans Scenic Byway remained closed to motor vehicle traffic last summer because of health and safety concerns for the U.S. Forest Service staff and general public. So, the only visitors last year were cyclists, trail runners, researchers, and trail restoration volunteers.
On Friday, though, the highway reopened to the general motoring public for the first time since September 2019.
At 8 a.m., the gates near Echo Lake were thrown open and dozens of cars briefly stopped at the welcome station before starting the 14-mile ascent.
At the summit, photographers, skiers, out-of-state tourists and other visitors were reveling in the long-awaited panoramas and the breathtakingly blue sky.
"We're a very happy bunch," Brilz said of Friday's first wave of visitors. "I missed it last year, and I wanted to make sure to have that experience this year."
While the highway is now open for the season, the U.S. Forest Service is requiring reservations for those wishing to visit and park between 8 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Reservations can be made online at recreation.gov up to a month in advance.
Brilz said she wasn't sure how she felt about the reservation system yet, but understood the general need to balance access to land with preservation efforts.
USFS staff have stated that the system can be adapted as necessary, but it already seems to be streamlining the entrance process.
Clear Creek District Ranger Scott Haas reported that the welcome station staff cleared the initial line of 40-plus cars in 20 minutes. Under the USFS' previous fee system, a line that long would've taken about 90 minutes to process.
"It's an exciting day," Haas said of the highway's reopening, adding that he was proud of all the stakeholders' work to make it happen.
While waiting in line before 8 a.m., John Tufano, a resident of Golden and Silverthorne, was among those planning to visit the mountain's snowfields and ski a few runs between the summit and the lake below.
While he's visited the mountain before, he said it was his first time skiing there.
Looking back at the growing line of cars, he remarked, "People want to get back to the way life used to be."
At the head of the line was Denver's Howard Paul, who had been waiting at the gate since 4:50 a.m., explaining that he wasn't sure when that morning it was supposed to open.
"I have been waiting for this day for a year," Paul said.
The wildlife photographer and Alpine Rescue Team volunteer visits the area frequently during the summer. He's typically at the summit around sunrise to photograph the mountain goats and their young, and then stops at the Echo Lake Lodge for cinnamon rolls afterward.
"I'm glad we're getting back to a sense of normalcy," Paul continued.
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