Aspen’s North Star float likely will require new strategy for parking, access |

Aspen’s North Star float likely will require new strategy for parking, access

A group of floaters head down the North Star Nature Preserve in a prior summer.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

Regular boaters at the North Star Nature Preserve who use their cars to access the area’s most popular float trip likely will need to come up with a new strategy next summer.

According to a proposed management plan for the area, cars will be even less welcome at North Star, and the chaotic parking situation of recent summers at both the Wildwood put-in and the Stillwater takeout will no longer exist because it will be mostly removed, officials said Thursday.

“We’re proposing a big reduction in cars,” Gary Tennenbaum, open space program director, said Thursday. “Will that necessitate a reduction in use? Maybe or maybe not.

“We don’t want to accommodate more use. We want people to drive less.”

Those who don’t drive less and park illegally will receive parking tickets from either Open Space rangers or sheriff’s deputies. The ticket from deputies will cost $25, said Undersheriff Ron Ryan. The fine from Open Space rangers has not yet been determined.

The proposed new strategy, outlined Thursday at a meeting of the Open Space and Trails Board, is likely to affect a majority of North Star users.

A public survey taken in October indicated that most people who visit North Star do so to float the approximately 3-mile flat section of the Roaring Fork River it meanders through. Of those boaters, floaters and paddleboarders, 93% access North Star by car, according to the survey.

All five access points or parking areas at North Star along Highway 82 include a total of only 31 parking spots, said Lindsay Utter, Open Space planning and outreach manager. At peak times — generally during warm weekend summer afternoons — between 72 and 91 cars park at the preserve, she said.

That includes between 30 and 40 cars parked dangerously close to the highway at the Stillwater takeout, where technically no cars are allowed to park, Utter said. It also includes between 10 and 14 cars at the Wildwood put-in, where there are five spaces, though locals have figured out how to maximize the area by double- and triple-parking cars while leaving keys on the seat for space shuffling, she said.

If the proposed new management plan is eventually accepted by the Open Space and Trails Board and Pitkin County commissioners, the parking situation at Wildwood and Stillwater won’t look like that anymore.

For starters, no one will be able to park at Stillwater.

Officials want to create a better and more efficient loading area at Stillwater, but that’s it. The plan calls for working with the Colorado Department of Transportation, which owns the right-of-way alongside the highway, to install signs or possibly jersey barriers to discourage the illegal parking.

Open Space officials have proposed expanding the so-called “North Lot,” which is located 0.31 miles up Highway 82 from Stillwater, from six current spaces to 12 to help accommodate parking needs.

At Wildwood, officials also want to improve the drop-off and unloading area, though that would eliminate most of the area where boaters now double- and triple-park their cars. They would preserve the five parking spaces currently at the put-in.

Beyond that, officials suggest people launch at Southgate, where paragliders land, or at the Beach, where boaters would now be able to launch watercraft, which wasn’t previously allowed. They also want to encourage bicycle shuttles and use of commercial boating companies to provide rides for people to North Star.

Jim Ingram, owner of Aspen Whitewater Rafting, took issue Thursday with the last point. He said the Open Space program’s recent cap on commercial companies only being allowed to take six people per hour to the put-in will hamper the efforts to reduce parking.

Utter said commercial shuttle companies can provide only rides to North Star for boaters, or they can provide guiding services to clients provided they have Open Space Program permits.

Michael Kinsley, a member of the Open Space and Trails Board, said he supported efforts to reduce cars at North Star, which he called “terrific.”

“My tendency is to put a blanket on it,” he said.

Board Chair Amy Barrow said many people don’t understand the uniqueness of the North Star ecosystem, and instead think of it as just a place to paddleboard.

The proposed management plan will be available online soon for public comment at the Pitkin County Open Space website for the next two months.

After that, the Open Space Board must approve it before it goes to Pitkin County commissioners, who likely won’t address it before June, Utter said.

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