A first-of-its-kind study released this week sheds light on the popularity of Colorado's fourteeners as well as their economic contribution to the state.
Some 260,000 hikers took to Colorado's 54 tallest mountains last year, pumping an estimated $70.5 million into local economies, according to the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. The nonprofit preserving the peaks' trails reports that tromping is most heavy along the Front Range, with Grays and Torreys peaks and Mount Bierstadt receiving between 20,000 and 25,000 climbers last year, along with Mount Elbert.
The study reports Pikes Peak drew between 7,000-10,000 hikers in 2015 - a moderate volume compared to the average for all 54 mountains of 4,800 hikers, the study estimated.
"Hopefully it gives us a data point to begin communicating with trailhead communities about maintaining their systems," said Lloyd Athearn, CFI's executive director. "These mountains are clearly dropping people into their communities, and they're spending money. Sometimes without data, people are less inclined to realize that kind of impact."
The study uses counts made by infrared trackers that CFI placed over the past two years on seven of the most popular fourteeners. To get an idea of traffic at the other peaks, CFI analyzed "checklist" entries compiled on 14ers.com, the widely-used site for climbers of Colorado's mountains.
CFI based its economic impact on a 2009 survey by economists. The survey found that Quandary Peak, near Breckenridge, attracted hikers who spent an average of $271.17 per day on gas, food, lodging, equipment and other purchases.
In hopes of refining the study, CFI expanded infrared tracking this year to 22 summit routes. During his tenure as the organization's head, data collection has been emphasized by Athearn, the former deputy director of the Colorado Conservation Trust and longtime climbing lobbyist with a degree in political science. Last year, CFI released its first "Fourteener Report Card," which estimated $24 million is needed to restore trails on 39 mountains. (Pikes Peak, which is maintained largely by the nonprofit Friends of the Peak, was not among mountains inventoried).
Luis Benitez, director of Colorado's Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, is encouraged by CFI's latest effort.
"Fourteeners are a tourism draw for Colorado - we've all known it, everybody who comes here knows it," he said. "Now we have something that quantifies and qualifies that."
Paul Mead, Friends of the Peak president, suggested traffic on "America's Mountain" might be greater than CFI's estimate. Last year, from June through October, he said the group placed infrared trackers on Pikes Peak's west side, on trails leading to the Crags and Devil's Playground - two of the mountain's most popular trails, along with Barr Trail, stretching to the summit.
In June alone, Mead said, the trackers on the two trails, installed based on a U.S. Forest Service recommendation, counted a combined 5,000 hikers.
"We all have a gut feeling, but getting the numbers gives confirmation of a high-traffic area that deserves more resources to be expended on it," Mead said. "We like to collect that information to determine where people are going, and therefore where resources should be allocated."
Contact Seth Boster: 636-0332