From the air

Aerial view of Dierks Bentley’s Seven Peaks Music Festival’s headline performance Sunday night. The event drew an estimated 13,000 spectators.

A group of Chaffee County public safety officials and members of the Seven Peaks Community Advisory Board met Sept 25 to discuss the country music festival that celebrated its second outing at the Meadows west of Buena Vista Labor Day weekend.

Dominating the hour and a half discussion was the issue of traffic entering and leaving the Seven Peaks Music Festival.

The group also considered the ramifications of opening the festival grounds one day early on the Thursday before Labor Day, as well as the question of whether the event needed to happen on Labor Day weekend at all.

Sean O’Connell, the vice president of operations for the Rocky Mountain division of Live Nation, the organizers of Seven Peaks, said that roughly 12,000 people attended the festival.

O’Connell also said that Live Nation was in the process of gathering an economic impact study of how the festival impacted the local area.

Chaffee County collected sales tax on items sold at the Meadows venue just outside of Buena Vista town limits. Because Buena Vista is a statutory town, its sales tax receipts are remitted back to the town from the state on a delay of about 2 months. August’s sales tax totals will arrive in October.

O’Connell said the Live Nation study would be complete in the coming months as well.

Traffic entering and existing the Meadows was backed up on both Friday and Sunday mornings, but those in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting said that it had improved over the previous year.

“The county roads were what was congested last year,” said EMS director Josh Hadley. “This year it was a congestion on the site of actually getting people to their campsites. At least that’s what we observed. It wasn’t an issue of getting off Crossman or across 361. It was still slow for them, but it wasn’t nearly the issue it was last year.”

Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Andy Rohrich said, “The traffic was backed up, but for the most part it was moving … Last year it was just stopped.”

O’Connell said that, from what he had heard, the traffic did not prevent anyone living west of the venue from travelling east into town, save a slightly extended commute.

“As far as what caused a little bit of the snafu there, quite simply we had a bunch of staff that didn’t show up,” O’Connell said.

“What we found in a couple different instances was we had two different companies that basically worked hand in hand, one of which was a traffic control company and the other of which was a parking control company.

“The reason why we moved some of our folks off the streets (traffic control) and into parking is because getting everybody checked, getting them security checked, getting them moved once they’re on the site to the proper area is a little bit more time consuming than waving people on or stopping people and waving people when they’re at a corner … we wanted to be sure we concentrated on what was going to get people into their space and keep traffic moving the fastest.”

O’Connell said that it was primarily local hires that did not show up for work.

“We heard from some other folks in town that we’re not unique in our issues on that,” he said.

Ultimately, he said, the event was dealing with the majority of its thousands of attendees arriving in the space of a few hours, spaced out along the roadway in large recreational vehicles.

“Certainly there were some backups, but when we’ve got that many 40-50 foot vehicles, they take up some space,” O’Connell said. “It’s not like having a bus come through with 50 people on it in that amount of space we had two or three people in.”

He said that the festival bore much more responsibility for the backups during entry than egress Sunday morning, as the event staff had to check in and relocate each visitor, but said that he did notice that many more people were leaving south than north.

“It was something I thought about at the time that we can give some instruction to some of the folks that are coming in from Denver that they might save some time overall by taking 70 and coming back south down 24, rather than coming in on 285 from the south where they’re going to meet up with all the traffic from Colorado Springs and everything else,” O’Connell said. “If we get 20 percent of the people to listen to us intead of Siri or whatever their phone is telling them to do, I think it’ll even things out.”

Rohrich said that Monday morning, “We had state patrol call us because they were getting overwhelmed. In fact, the northbound traffic from Johnson Village was backed up all the way past the raft companies, just with people trying to get on U.S. 285 going north from the Nathrop and Salida area. So that was an issue for state patrol, but it’s not like they weren’t ready and expecting it, but they were asking us to start pushing people to I-70.

“Ultimately we decided not to do that because people are going to go the way they want to go, so we were concerned they were going to go 70, go find some county road to turn around their big rig and we were going to be causing problems on our county roads,” he said.

Offering an ironic highlight to Monday’s congestion, Hadley said that because the bumper-to-bumper traffic forced drivers to move so slowly across Trout Creek Pass, no crashes were reported on the winding road. EMS call volume was greater in the southern part of the county than the north that morning, he said.

While he recieved very few complaints about sound levels during the weekend, Chaffee County Commissioner Keith Baker said that “sound coming from the beach was pretty dang loud on Saturday.”

Beginning at noon, the festival hosted a dance party at the beach surrounding a pond fed by Cottonwood Creek, soundtracked to bass-heavy mixes of pop hits played by DJ AYDAMN.

Primarily, the object of complaints from neighbors to the venue came from the camping area, Rohrich said.

“I think the majority of our complaints, to be honest with you, came from camping, as far as noise,” Rohrich said. “And when those came in, they were addressed … the people camping who had brought in their own dancefloors, the ones we dealt with, were extremely cooperative. As soon as we went over there and said ‘Hey, we’re getting complaints,’ they announced it on their thing ‘We’re shutting it down.’ We didn’t have any issues at all with having to ask them to do that.”

“We know going forward that we’re going to try and get out in front of it before there’s a complaint,” O’Connell said. “We took that as a good note that, boy, we didn’t realize this was happening ‘til we heard about it.”

Returning to the issue of traffic, as well as a possible remedy for the Friday morning rush that was suggested in year one’s follow-up meeting, the group discussed the possibility of opening the venue to attendees one day earlier.

“I think on the front side, a longer load-in needs to be looked at and tried,” said Paul Rauschke, a member of the citizens advisory board.

O’Connell said that being open an extra day would come at a greater cost to Live Nation, but that it was something organizers were considering.

“The thing I want to be sure I’m taking back to our folks is that if we do open up campgrounds on Thursday, we expect we’re going to get a lot of folks out there,” O’Connell said. “Is everybody around okay with that? With another day of us being in your hair? Or is it worth a couple hours of traffic backup on Friday morning?”

For Rohrich, the idea of an extra day of thousands of campers in a field waiting for the party to get started raised concerns.

“Let’s say you get 16,000 or 17,000 next year. We’re going to have maybe 12,000 or 13,000 out there on Thursday with nothing to do on site. So they’re going to stay at their campers, they’re going to drink or they’re going to go to Buena Vista,” Rohrich said. “One, that would be Buena Vista Police Department’s busiest day, and I think inside the concert would be busy for us as well.”

Live Nation is intent on returning to the Meadows for year three of Seven Peaks, but whether or not they do is, as always, subject to the organization filing for and being approved for a special event permit by the Board of County Commissioners.

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