Maroon bells at sunrise, Aspen

Maroon Bells near Aspen at sunrise.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit on Friday ruled against a Colorado man who challenged the U.S. Forest Service’s fee to access the Maroon Bells Scenic Area near Aspen.

Thomas Alpern claimed that the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act prohibits the government from charging a fee solely for parking at Forest Service sites. Congress allowed the agency to collect fees to reinvest in amenities for its parks. When amenities are present, like picnic tables, security, toilets and signage, the law allows for a fee. Parking at Maroon Bells is only free for the first 30 minutes, then ranges between $10 and $25.

Judge Gregory A. Phillips, wrote for the three-judge panel that the law “prohibits charging fees ‘[s]olely for parking . . . along roads or trailsides[,]’ something Alpern does not do. He parks in a developed parking lot featuring all the amenities listed”.

Alpern said that he goes on multi-day backpacking trips and only uses the parking lot. Therefore, he should not have to pay a fee for the other, non-used amenities. A district court ruled against Alpern and the circuit court affirmed, saying the exemptions to the fee were reserved for people who drive through the site without parking, who walk in, or who take boats or horses.

“Conspicuously unlisted are visitors who park at a fee area and claim not to use any amenities,” wrote Phillips, skeptical of Alpern’s representation of his situation. “Though Alpern does not admit using the security services, he does so every time he parks in one of the three Maroon Valley lots….We see no realistic scenario in which he does not use the security services. What if a security officer notices a would-be thief breaking into Alpern’s car? Should the officer ignore the break-in, somehow divining that Alpern has silently disavowed the use of security?”

The case is Thomas Alpern v. Brian Ferebee and United States Forest Service.

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