The night before Lakewood’s Joyce and Steve Koenig visited Mount Evans with their daughter and her boyfriend, they went to recreation.gov and purchased a vehicle ticket.
On July 22, the Koenigs and hundreds of others visited the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, stopping at Mount Goliath, Summit Lake and/or the summit parking lot along the way. Many of the parked vehicles had various tags or reservation receipts displayed on their front dashboard or windshield — proof that they were OK to park at a given fee area.
When the scenic byway reopened for vehicle traffic on June 4, the U.S. Forest Service and its partners instituted a timed-entry reservation system for those parking in any fee areas between 8 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
The road itself is free to drive on, although motorists are asked to stop at the welcome station first. More than 700 vehicles have opted for a drive-only experience thus far this summer.
USFS spokeswoman K. Reid Armstrong said the new system, which is on a trial basis for the summer, has been working well thus far. It’s reduced parking issues and overcrowding at the trailheads, she said, and there’s been less resource damage throughout the area.
It’s also alleviated a lot of money-handling at the welcome station, helping vehicles to get onto the scenic byway more quickly, she said.
In fact, Armstrong said USFS saw more vehicle ticket sales in June 2021 than in June 2019 — 12,191 versus 10,783. However, she said the June 2021 numbers could include people buying for July dates in advance, as the site allows sales up to a month ahead of time.
She said the USFS will have a better idea of overall traffic counts and usage at the end of the season, and it and other agencies will decide over the fall and winter whether to continue the reservation system next summer.
As the Koenigs stood in the summit parking lot, Joyce said she was neutral about the U.S. Forest Service’s new reservation system.
When she first heard about it, she thought it would be difficult; but, it was ultimately painless when the family bought the ticket the night before.
She recalled when she and Steve visited Mount Evans two years ago, and the couple found the last spot available at the summit parking lot.
“I can see why they’re doing it,” she said.
However, Joyce added that she dislikes needing to make a reservation during a visit to public lands. If someone comes to visit her last-minute, it’s harder to take them to Mount Evans or Rocky Mountain National Park if she needs to make a reservation beforehand, she described.
Steve said he generally felt positive toward the new reservation system at Mount Evans, but he hoped it would get back to the point where it wasn’t necessary anymore.
Ryan Moats of Highlands Ranch, who was also in the summit parking lot after hiking to the top with his church group, said he thought the online reservation system was easy and self-explanatory. He made his reservation about a week in advance, explaining that his group bought a three-day pass and would be using it all three days.
Moats, who was visiting the peak for the first time, said: “It was good to know we’d have a (parking) spot.”
One reviewer on the recreation.gov site wasn’t so happy with the new arrangement. A Brian A. left a one-star review on the site, stating “It’s JUST AS CROWDED AS EVER….but this time I had to pay. That’s a lousy deal!”
According to Armstrong, the biggest challenge with the reservation system now is simply getting the word out. A lot of visitors, particularly people from out-of-state, are arriving at the welcome station without a reservation, simply because they don’t know about the new system.
To that end, the USFS has set up wireless internet at the welcome station so that unprepared visitors can make a reservation. However, Armstrong emphasized that it’s a fallback system and not something visitors should rely on, especially because the internet isn’t high-speed.
This is exactly what happened when Chicago’s Prasanthi Konakandla arrived at the welcome station on July 22.
The USFS staff member gave her instructions on where and how to make an online reservation, and it was overall a fairly easy process once she got started, she said.
Konakandla described two small issues, though.
First, she didn’t know which type of ticket to buy. There’s a vehicle ticket for all recreation sites, one for Mount Goliath and the summit area, and then one for Summit Lake only.
The second issue was that she had to register with the system, putting in her email address and other information, rather than simply purchasing it.
Konakandla also mentioned that, while the process was relatively easy for her, it might be difficult for those who aren’t as tech-savvy or don’t have smartphones.
Meanwhile, Yen Zhang, who was also visiting from Chicago but traveling separately, said she made her reservation about a week in advance. For $17 total — $15 for the vehicle ticket plus a $2 reservation fee — she thought it was a fair price.
“I always research ahead of time,” she said, adding that many national parks also require reservations.
Zhang said it was her first time visiting Colorado, and she was really glad she stopped by Mount Evans. When she made her reservation, she made sure to sign up for a morning slot and an all-recreation-sites ticket.
“We’re not in a hurry,” she said.
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