Aspen, Pitkin County to split ranger position |

Aspen, Pitkin County to split ranger position

Jeremy Heiman

It appears that Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails program will soon get at least one thing on its Christmas list.

The county commissioners and the Aspen City Council gave conceptual approval last Tuesday for an open space ranger position that would be shared between the two governments. If the idea is approved, the city will hire a full-time open space ranger who will work part time for the city’s Parks Department and part time for the county’s Open Space and Trails Department.

Aspen currently has an environmental ranger, Brian Flynn, who works for the city’s parks and environmental health departments. Aspen also hires a seasonal ranger during the warm months. The new, shared ranger position would replace the seasonal worker.

Under a proposed arrangement, the city would exchange the ranger’s time for expertise in property acquisition, to be provided by county Open Space director Dale Will. At some point in the future, an intergovernmental agreement will be crafted between the city and county, formalizing the arrangement.

The Open Space board of trustees has discussed the need for a ranger several times in recent years, but neither the budget nor the legal mechanism have been there. The county’s Open Space program has made considerable progress in acquiring properties since the voters reauthorized the program in 1999.

The ranger is needed, Will said, first to implement the new management plan for North Star Nature Preserve, one of the area’s most valued open space properties. Second, someone is needed to patrol the program’s entire trail system and its growing list of properties, to remind dog owners of their responsibilities and to deal with unauthorized camps on the land. Other issues requiring the ranger’s attention might be conflicts between trail users and regulation of commercial outfitters.

Will said he’s visited open space systems in Boulder and other Front Range communities to observe what kind of organization is necessary to manage a larger collection of land holdings. Those communities have more of a staff presence on the land.

“We’re realizing we’re to that point now,” Will said. “We can’t have millions and millions of dollars of open space land and not have anybody out there supervising the uses on them.”

Like the current city of Aspen ranger, the new ranger will probably be able to issue tickets for offenses on county lands, but won’t have police powers. When Flynn anticipates a possible confrontation, he calls for police backup.

“I don’t think we need anyone out there carrying a pistol,” Will said. “That’s the purview of the sheriff. The heaviest thing we want them to carry is a radio.”

The proposed open space intergovernmental agreement between city and county would govern not only personnel sharing, but also joint land acquisition projects. The two governments are currently cooperating in the purchase of the 37-acre Mickie Flanigan parcel on Smuggler Mountain, and more such projects are anticipated.

The job description for the new open space ranger is not thoroughly fleshed out at this point. Will and Aspen parks director Jeff Woods have agreed to create a better-defined proposal and bring it back to the county commissioners and City Council in the near future, Will said.

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