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The morning sun shines on the ridge leading to Red Mountain in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.

Leaders in Vail and surrounding White River National Forest are closing some parking spots and limiting others as part of a pilot program to address overcrowding at trailheads.

"Bus it to hike it" is the message from authorities, who are pointing hikers to shuttles out of Vail. In a recent press release, they noted "traffic safety concerns" along Vail Pass and residential roads where popular trailheads are situated. Within Eagles Nest Wilderness, rangers counted damaging erosion and the buildup of trash and feces as results of a busy 2020.

"Use at the Booth Lake Trail alone increased from 30,637 users in 2019 to 50,560 users in 2020," Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger Leanne Velduis said in the release.

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The parking area at that trailhead will be off-limits all summer, officials said. At the Pitkin and Bighorn trailheads, parking will be capped at three hours. And at the Gore/Deluge trailhead, another launch point for multi-day trips in the forest, hikers will find familiar spots now designated and others closed.

Visitors are being directed to the Vail Village, Lionshead and Red Sandstone parking structures, which the town lists as free during summer days. Backpackers can find free, though limited, overnight spots at Red Sandstone. For the larger Vail Village and Lionshead structures, overnight fees are $35.

Free shuttles are expected to run to all trailheads regularly. Parking and route information has been posted at hikevail.net.

The changes come as land managers across Colorado are considering new ways to control crowds.

In a recent interview with The Gazette, White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said the situation in Vail last year was "a complete zoo." He mentioned Summit County as another location needing evaluations. A recent survey gauged hikers' feelings on the possibility of reservations and shuttles to the Quandary Peak trailhead.

The pandemic brought outdoor numbers not expected for another few years based on population projections, Fitzwilliams said.

"It's not something in the future anymore. It's here, it's right in our faces. So we gotta roll up our sleeves and get together with the community and stakeholders."

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