BOULDER – It must be a relief to hike in a straight line after circling the parking lot at Chautauqua Park.

The constant circling is almost entertaining for lucky ones, like Tom Maiefski, who after snagging his own parking spot, watched his sister find one of her own.

“No way!” Maiefski said, as his sister pulled into an open parking space.

Maiefski admitted he doesn’t always luck out finding parking.

“This gets to where you spend 45 minutes looking for a spot or an hour or 30 minutes,” he said.

Chautauqua Park
Chautauqua Park

Leo Peterson and his wife, Nikki, found parking after circling the lot a couple times, though

Peterson admitted, it didn’t look promising driving down Baseline Road.

“We started looking at a lot of cars parked down the side streets,” Peterson said. “We started to get concerned about exactly where we [were] going to park.”

Circling the lot is a dizzying routine for visitors at Chautauqua Park. The City of Boulder knows it’s a problem that’s gotten worse as the number of visitors has doubled over the past ten years.

During the busiest summer days, the park can see up to 5,000 hikers. Last month, the city council proposed a summer pilot program to help alleviate congestion at the park.

“It has been defined as a wicked problem,” said Michael Matts, director of cultural resources and operations for the Colorado Chautauqua Association. “I think that everybody is going to have to contribute to solve it.”

The CCA partners with the city to manage the historic Chautauqua leasehold that includes 60 cottages and 40 residences along with a dining hall, auditorium and community hall. Matts said staff members and lodging guests often have trouble finding parking on busy days.

“There’s almost no off-street parking in the leasehold, so people are basically parking in the road, partly in what would be historic swales,” he said. “You’re getting damage to road there and damage to the swales and people are just driving around trying to find a place to park because it’s just a challenge.”

Chautauqua Park
Chautauqua Park

Matts said the CCA has been working with the city on its pilot program. Nothing is set in stone, but the plan may only apply on weekends from June 1st to August 31st.

The pilot program would include paid parking in the Ranger parking lot, along Baseline Road and nearby side streets. The city initially proposed two-hour parking in some areas with parking rates set at $2.50 per hour. The plan would also allow permitted parking for residents and a free shuttle that would take hikers from satellite parking lots to Chautauqua Park.

“It’s a pilot,” Matts emphasized. “We’re trying to figure it out.”

There’s a public hearing scheduled for April 18 at the next Boulder City Council meeting. The city council won’t make any decision on the pilot program until May 16.

Summer is not here yet, but the cars are already circling the lot at Chautauqua Park.

“It gets intense,” Tom Maiefski said.

Those lucky to find a parking space on Saturday, know their luck may run out next weekend.