Vail council to review idea of closing Booth Lake trailhead parking
Booth Lake Trail use rose 40% in 2020
The Vail Town Council will review the pros and cons of closing the Booth Lake trailhead parking lot for a trial period this summer to help reduce the impacts of overcrowding.
The discussion will take place at the Tuesday, March 16 evening Town Council meeting with opportunities for public comment. The action item is listed 3.1 on the virtual meeting agenda which begins at 6 p.m.
After experiencing significant increases in visitation at the East Vail trailheads in 2020, the town staff has been working with the U.S. Forest Service and other partners to address a series of overuse issues, including resource degradation, parking congestion, diminishing guest experience, trash and traffic.
The Booth Lake trail had the heaviest use during the past summer with an overall increase of 40% compared to 2019. During a Feb. 2 update to council, staff was asked to research the pros and cons of limiting close-in vehicular access to the trail.
Closure of the 18-space trailhead parking lot would reduce traffic and congestion in the Booth Falls neighborhood, help reduce or disperse trail use, and enhance pedestrian safety, according to a staff analysis. A draft operational plan has been prepared which proposes a June 2 closure with alternate access options, including use of the Vail Mountain School parking when available, use of hotel shuttles and an emphasis on the town’s free bus system, which offers service every 30 minutes during the summer.
The operational plan also proposes placing trail hosts at key locations during busy times to help redirect vehicles as well as installation of additional bike racks at the trailhead. In their interaction with hikers, the hosts would raise awareness about the trail use stewardship principles of Leave No Trace.
Future strategies for consideration include: improving the bus turnaround at Vail Mountain School to better accommodate hotel shuttles, installing a bus turnaround at the intersection of Main Gore Drive and Bighorn Road for a future hiker shuttle and limiting the number of parking spots available at Vail Mountain School during the summer when school is not in session.
In addition to outlining the advantages of a pilot program that would test the effectiveness of the trailhead parking closure, the staff analysis also lists potential negatives, including the perception of reduced guest service, frustrations by residents who drive from their homes to the trailhead, prohibition of dogs on town buses due to federal regulations, limited ability to communicate with hikers from out of town and the potential to create an increase in illegal parking pressures in other areas of town and on the frontage road.
The town is also preparing to send a request to U.S. Forest Service to begin the first stages of the National Environmental Policy Act. This would begin evaluation and review of the current wilderness management capacity designation. Management tools to be evaluated would include appropriateness and feasibility of a permit system to regulate the number of hikers and additional controls at the Booth Lake and other East Vail trailheads, as well as appropriate winter closure opportunities for wildlife.
To review the staff analysis, visit the town’s website at vailgov.com. To forward comments to Town Council in advance of the meeting, email firstname.lastname@example.org or to register to attend the virtual March 16 meeting to offer public comment during the meeting, visit vailgov.com/town-council.