If you want to go hiking on the popular trails in Green Mountain Falls this summer, you may have to pay to park. The very small town, with a correspondingly very small budget and very small staff, has struggled over the last few years with how to manage the increasing numbers of users, and their vehicles, overwhelming the town.
The COVID-19 pandemic made things even worse last year, with even more people visiting to engage in outdoor recreation nearly bringing the town to its breaking point. When the mere 250 legal parking spaces available to the public filled up, some inconsiderate visitors would park on private property, in residents' driveways or illegally on town roads clearly marked as being for residents only, generating complaints to town hall. The excess amount of cars also brought an excess amount of people and complaints about loud groups on residential streets, litter, loose dogs and other generally poor behavior. Additionally, the huge influx of visitors overwhelmed the town's public restroom facilities, which simply weren't designed for the number of visitors who were using them.
The situation got so bad last year that the town's Board of Trustees considered closing their trails. They instead chose to keep the trails open, and to deploy a team of volunteer Trail Ambassadors to assist hikers with finding trailheads, where to park, and to gently remind visitors to be good neighbors. That effort "helped a lot with pointing people in the right direction," said town Mayor Jane Newberry, adding "They will still be here." However, it didn't stem the tide of visitors descending on the town, and with it, the ever-present parking problems.
The town commissioned a study to look into how best to manage traffic in the town and it provided a number of different options for the trustees to consider. You can find the results of the study here, starting on page 18. In the end, the Trustees decided to move forward with a pay to park program, which Newberry hopes to see roll out before summer. According to Newberry, the 2-year pilot program would give everyone 2 free hours of parking per visit. The 3rd and 4th hours would cost $2.00, and subsequent hours would be $5 each. There would be a $34 maximum fee for 10 hours of parking, and the program would initially run only Fridays through Sundays. Additionally, residents of the town, and close neighbors such as those from Cascade or Chipita Park, would not have to pay to park at all. Also, there would be no charge for parking for special town events, such as the annual Bronc Day, according to Newberry. You can read the details of the plan here, starting on page 18.
While there were some concerns about the impact of a pay-to-park program on local businesses, Newberry said "it's certainly not anti-business" especially with regard to the first 2 hours being free. Newberry felt that people coming to town to dine or shop are usually in and out in under 2 hours and likely wouldn't be affected, while "people who come to hike will still get to hike."
In my own personal experience having hiked extensively in Green Mountain Falls, most of the hikes there can be done in 2 to 3 hours. While Newberry concedes that this will not be a huge money-maker for the town, she says she sees it as providing "a little bit of revenue for the town Marshal, and to improve roads and bathroom facilities." The town put out a Request for Proposals earlier this week, and Newberry says that three vendors have already expressed interest. Some concepts they are examining are kiosks not only for visitors to pay for parking, but also that would provide visitors information, such as which trailheads are open or closed, or updates on trail conditions. Newberry stressed that the program's "goal is to direct people where to park, not to forbid parking" and that the she hoped this would "make the best quality of life for both residents and visitors".
In other news, the Incline Friends has announced that is has received more than $500,000 in donations from two benefactors. According to Incline Friends president Bill Beagle, two donations — one totaling $100,000, the other $400,000 — "came from a trust established by a gentleman who once lived in Manitou Springs and regularly hiked on the Incline. After he passed away in April 2020, the trustee in charge of the fund began considering a way to honor his memory by searching for Colorado organizations that might fit the man’s passion and appreciation for outdoor recreation and natural resources." Additionally $25,000 was gifted this year by a long-time donor. Both donors wish to remain anonymous. According to Beagle, the Incline Friends hope to use the money to build a trail from the top of the incline that will connect to the "Northern Return Trail" that was built in 2020, and also to construct permanent bathroom facilities at the base of the incline.
Be Good. Do Good Things.