Pitkin County mulls special-event overload
Ryan Summerlin February 8, 2013
ASPEN – How many special events are too many?
With three of the four weekends in July slated for organized events that make use of the Rio Grande Trail, Pitkin County officials are asking the question.
Members of the county Open Space and Trails Board of Trustees and representatives of the Community Development Department met Thursday to discuss the need for a coordinated approach to events that involve various jurisdictions.
Aspen, for example, embraces the economic boost that special events bring to the city, but the impacts often spill over into unincorporated Pitkin County. The city’s proposed circuit race for this year’s USA Pro Challenge cycling event, which has bumped into county resistance because it involves closing roads and disrupting traffic, is one example, said Dale Will, open space and trails director.
While Open Space and Trails properties aren’t involved in the race, requests for special events involving open space amenities increased more than 300 percent from 2007 to 2012, according to John Armstrong, senior ranger.
“Honestly, in the last four years, it has just exploded,” said Gary Tennenbaum, stewardship and trails manager for Open Space and Trails.
The county doesn’t close the Rio Grande Trail for events, but the larger ones essentially render the trail unusable for the general public while they’re taking place, Armstrong said.
“Do we want every weekend in July to have an event on the Rio Grande Trail?” he mused.
An annual event that makes use of the trail is scheduled for July 4, but county officials have suggested that a local marathon seeking use of the trail on July 6 pick a different date instead and avoid the busy holiday weekend.
It might be time to regulate special events with something akin to the growth-management system the county uses to control the pace of development, said Cindy Houben, community development director.
“There’s just this insatiable demand for the use,” she said.
Summer weekends between the Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends are seeing the greatest pressure, according to Armstrong.
In a memo to the open space board, Armstrong recommended coming up with policies to prevent a saturation of special events on the Rio Grande, particularly on summer weekends. That could mean setting limits on events and offering incentives for staging activities on weekdays or off-peak times.
The topic is expected to see discussion during a joint meeting of the open space board and county commissioners next month, but Houben said she hopes to get representatives of local municipalities, the Forest Service and chambers of commerce together to discuss a coordinated approach to events. Coming up with a plan will likely require hiring outside help, she said.
Saying “no” to events can be difficult, said County Commissioner Michael Owsley, who sat in on the discussion.
“The position is, Do you want to spoil this event for the rest of the community?” he said.
But it’s often the county that’s put in the position of saying “no” or acquiescing, Owsley said, as events promoted by municipalities spill over into the unincorporated county. As an example, he offered a recent suggestion that would involve as many as 2,000 Basalt-area residents creating a continuous chalk drawing on the Rio Grande Trail. A drawing longer than 4.2 miles, created on one day, would be a world record. Labor Day weekend was suggested for the attempt.
“Who wants 2,000 people drawing on the Rio Grande Trail?” Owsley asked.