Pitkin County wants to update its management plan at North Star Nature Preserve and will start conducting in-person surveys with people accessing the area during the next month.
Pitkin County Open Space and Trails is beginning work to update the 14-year-old management plan for North Star as well as the management plan for the James H. Smith Open Space. The city of Aspen, co-owner of the Smith property, will join the effort.
The two parcels comprise about 240 acres of riparian habitat along the Roaring Fork River. The James H. Smith management plan was adopted in 2001, following adoption of the North Star plan in 2000.
“We have to update our management plans every certain amount of years,” said Gary Tennenbaum, assistant director of Open Space and Trails. “The North Star management plan is 14 years old. The county and everything else was different back then. We really need to adapt the plan for what’s going on now.”
North Star Nature Preserve and the James H. Smith Open Space are located a little more than a mile east of Aspen.
According to Tennenbaum, recreational use has “exploded” on the river in that area. The waterway that includes the two open space properties can draw 100 or more individuals daily during the summer as they float the river with inflatable tubes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.
He said the best way to reassess the overall use and impacts starts with some outreach to the people using the area.
“We’re trying to get a feel from people if that area is getting too crowded and what people like to do out there,” he said. “Do they want to see any changes? Now’s the time to reassess what’s going on.”
Besides the in-person surveys the county plans to conduct, Tennenbaum said the county also will seek input from the East Aspen Caucus, the paragliders who use the area and the neighbors surrounding the parcels.
“How do we best protect the nature preserve while allowing the access that people enjoy?” Tennenbaum asked. “Parking issues are a big issue. The Wildwood area, where people access and launch into the Roaring Fork River, gets extremely full. That area is on Forest Service property, but the take-out area is on North Star, and there are traffic and parking issues there. We have to find ways to address those issues and protect our resources.”
Tennenbaum said the county would look for resource impacts along the river, like trash, and redo many of the wildlife and vegetation surveys to make sure the river is functioning correctly.
“It’s such a beautiful area,” he said. “We really need to find ways to make sure people are being respectful of private properties around the open space. We’re also considering winter use and may need to dedicate rangers just for that area.”
Pitkin County manages the preserve for low-impact recreation and maintains the space as a wildlife corridor.
According to the Nature Conservancy website, North Star supports a high level of biological diversity, including at least six species of birds that nest on the ground and one of just a few great blue heron colonies that exist above 8,000 feet. Along with the riparian habitat, North Star is home to valuable wetlands.
The North Star Nature Preserve survey is also available online at www.pitkinostprojects.com.