State Highway 5, also known as the Mt Evans Highway, is the highest paved road in North America and the first road ever built specifically to be a scenic drive. Completed in 1930, it snakes for 15 miles through the adjacent Mt Evans Wilderness, terminating just below the 14,265-foot high summit of the mountain. Maintained and plowed by the Colorado Department of Transportation, the road is open seasonally from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
|Celebrants admire the cake depicting the Mt Evans region, donated by Echo Lake Lodge.|
The highway is bordered by undeveloped natural land for most of its length. There is a visitor center and self-guiding nature trail at the 3-mile mark and an interpretive viewing platform at the summit. Those two spots are the only federally-owned developed facilities on the mountain that qualify for fees under FLREA. The road and its scenic pullouts are, and always have been, the property of the people of Colorado, maintained at state expense.
In 1997, under the Fee Demo program, the Arapaho National Forest began charging an entrance fee at the base of the road. That fee continued under the 2004 Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, despite prohibitions in FLREA against fees for general access or scenic overlooks.
A lawsuit challenging the fee program was filed in 2008. Last year it was settled out of court under an agreement that the Forest Service will require a fee only to park a vehicle in close proximity to the two federal developed sites that qualify for fees under the law, or at the Denver-owned mountain park at mile 9, if approved by the City of Denver. There is no longer any fee for roadside parking, bicycles, pedestrians, or those who park outside the fee sites and walk in.
Visits before 8 am or after 6:30 pm are always free, anywhere on the mountain.
Visitors who don't anticipate parking at one of the fee sites can bypass the information/fee collection station and proceed in the clearly marked through-traffic lane. Should they later decide to park at a fee site, there are on-site fee payment envelopes available. Holders of Interagency Passes (Annual, Senior, or Access) can visit and park anywhere on the mountain at no additional charge.
FREEDOM COMING TO MORE FEE AREAS SOON?
Similar changes to the fee program at Mt Lemmon near Tucson have recently been made in response to litigation. Lawsuits challenging the same issues are currently pending in California against the Adventure Pass and Southern Sierra Pass fee programs. All this litigation is regrettable but seems to be the only way to get the Forest Service to pay attention.
A recent announcement in Utah that the Forest Service is modifying its fees at the Mirror Lake and American Fork Canyon scenic byways may offer a glimmer of hope that they are starting to get into compliance with the law without having to be sued. That would be welcome news!