Aspen event planner fined for North Star wedding party
An Aspen event planning company was fined $1,000 on Thursday for organizing a large wedding float trip through the North Star Nature Preserve a week ago that violated the area’s management plan.
At the time, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Ranger John Armstrong said EKS Events had contacted him previously about organizing the trip, and he’d told company representatives that commercial trips were not allowed.
“Absolutely they ignored my advice …” Armstrong said then.
However, EKS owner Elizabeth Slossberg said Thursday that her company was not paid to organize the trip and, in fact, did not organize it. She also said the wedding party “conducted themselves orderly and properly and no complaints were received from neighbors.”
Slossberg declined to answer further questions. The $1,000 fine is the maximum allowed for North Star violations.
But Armstrong’s report on the incident appears to contradict Slossberg’s claims that she didn’t organize the trip on July 31, which included 67 people, three buses and a large truck for flotation devices.
Slossberg initially told Armstrong during a 25-minute conversation on July 15 that she wanted to organize the float trip for 15-20 people and that the bride was a friend of hers, according to Armstrong’s report. He explained to her that it wasn’t allowed.
“Slossberg asked if she should just say that she never called me and we had not had the conversation,” Armstrong wrote in his report. “I told her that was not an option. She also asked me if the activity she was requesting could be fined. I told her that commercial use of the Preserve was punishable by fine.”
A City of Aspen Open Space and Trails Ranger was the first to contact wedding party members at the Wildwood put-in on the morning of July 31, the report states.
“I made contact with the bride … and was rapidly flanked by Elizabeth Slossberg and Natalie Golden who were apparent organizers of the affair,” Ranger Brian Long wrote in a report.
Long spoke with the wedding party members about not littering and being sensitive to wildlife. The party was receptive to his message, according to his report.
Armstrong arrived later and spoke with one of the bus drivers, who showed him a work order commissioned by an EKS employee. Armstrong also called a supervisor at the bus company, who confirmed they were working for EKS, according to Armstrong’s report.
Later, at the Stillwater Bridge takeout, Armstrong spoke to a man who said he was helping Slossberg by following the party to make sure no trash was left behind, the report states. The man said he was a friend of Slossberg’s and not an employee.
Armstrong also saw a 26-foot box truck parked at the takeout for an hour that hauled the flotation devices.
“Other attendants arrived with towels for the party and I was told that they were employed by EKS,” Armstrong wrote in his report.
After he wrote her the ticket Thursday, Armstrong wrote that Slossberg “said she felt she had been caught in a compromised position by a demanding client.”
Armstrong told The Times on Thursday that both the Open Space and Trails Board of Trustees and the Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners are concerned about large groups using North Star.
“This raises a lot of questions,” Armstrong said. “How do you handle what could be a tsunami of wealth associated with these events.”
Attempts to reach commissioners Patti Clapper and Rachel Richards late Thursday were unsuccessful.
The fine for violating the commercial rules at North Star was recently raised to $1,000 from $100 after another large wedding trip last summer was cited for the lesser amount, and rangers felt “somewhat impotent” because of the low fine, he said.
“It wasn’t a deterrent,” Armstrong said.
North Star is a 175-acre parcel that runs along the Roaring Fork River about 1.5 miles east of Aspen. Recent years have seen an explosion in the number of tubers, rafters, kayakers and paddleboarders floating down the calm, flat water in the preserve, and corresponding levels of noise, alcohol and possible impacts to wildlife.
The Pitkin Board of County Commissioners will hold a public hearing Aug. 12 for the final reading of a new management plan for North Star, which aims to correct some of the excesses seen in recent years.
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