DENVER – The number of people who dared climb a 14er in Colorado dropped by 27% last year, with 14ers near the Front Range seeing an even higher drop in visitation, according to the latest report from the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI).
Access to trails, parking restrictions, wildfire smoke and more outdoor options as communities did away with coronavirus-related restrictions last summer contributed to the decline, the report states, with access to routes contributing to the largest drop in in 14er hiking use statewide, according to Lloyd F. Athearn, the executive director for the CFI.
Among the routes which saw the greatest decline in visitation was the Decalibron Loop in the Mosquito Range (which encompasses Mounts Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln and Bross bypass). Per CFI data, the route saw a 65% decline in use due to closure of the trail by the private landowner between May 1 and Aug. 6. The route was the fourth most popular at the start of the pandemic with an estimated use of up to 30,000 hiker days, but fell about three-fold in 2021, with an estimated 7,000-10,000 hiker days last year.
Mount Lindsey in the southern Sangre de Cristo Range was also closed due to landowner liability concerns, Athearn said, but use levels did not decline that much because the closure happened at the end of the season when use levels are normally low.
Smoke from hundreds of wildfires in Oregon and California also played their part in limiting the amount of people who hiked a 14er during the first full weekend in August of the 2021 hiking season, which the CFI estimates to be a period between May 25 and Oct. 11.
Quandary Peak remains most climbed 14er, other 14ers see decrease due to restrictions
Despite an estimated 35-40,000 hiking use days and parking restrictions at the main trailhead, Quandary Peak – which has been the top spot for most climbed 14er since 2019, saw a drop in visitation of 29% compared to 2020.
Mount Bierstadt, which was the second more climbed 14er in 2021 per the CFI, saw a drop of about 5,000 hiker user days this year, according to the report.
Restriction access to the trailheads for the Grays and Torreys peaks also forced many people to hike a longer route to the peaks, leading to lower use levels in 2021, according to Athearn. Data from 2020 shows the Torreys and Grays peaks saw a drop of about 10,0000 hiker use days in 2021.
Parking issues were also reported for the primary Mount Elbert route, which was located a mile farther from the trailhead due to construction, which ended up contributing to a longer climb.
The Grays and Torreys peaks tied third with Mount Elbert and Pikes Peak took fifth place last year, reporting an estimated 10-15,000 hiker days, down about 5,000 from 2020.
The statewide economic impact of hiking Colorado 14ers in 2021 was $82.2 million based on past 14er hiking use expenditure studies, according to the report – about a 27% decrease from 2020, when the economic impact that year was more than $112.5 million.
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