Chalk one up for wildlife in proposed plan for Deer Creek |

Chalk one up for wildlife in proposed plan for Deer Creek

Pitkin County open space wants priority on property to be wildlife habitat

An aerial view shows the Deer Creek Open Space, bottom, and its connection to Arbaney Gulch. The proposed management plan for Deer Creek calls for closure of the upper parcel to recreational use year-round. (Pitkin County Open Space/courtesy photo)

Pitkin County Open Space and Trails is proposing to keep the public off one of its latest additions and preserve it for bears, deer, elk, mountain lions and smaller critters.

The department is working on a management plan for the Deer Creek property along Lower River Road in Snowmass Canyon. It has been managed through an interim plan since it was purchased in 2015. The public has been prohibited from what’s known as the upland zone on the northern side of Lower River Road. Public access is provided down to the Roaring Fork River on the southern side of the road.

“It’s a pretty special place back there,” open space director Gary Tennenbaum told the program’s board of directors in a meeting Thursday. “There’s a lot of wildlife on that property.”

The open space program maintains a motion-triggered wildlife camera above the property on national forestland. Recent footage shared with the public featured a large adult bear using a tall fence post as a back-scratcher.

“Deer Creek was an unusual purchase,” Tennenbaum said. “It’s not a monster open space. It’s only 38 acres.”

The program was fortunate to buy the property for only $2.5 million in a foreclosure sale. It is a diverse property that provides noncommercial angler access, maintains agricultural uses and preserves scenic views in addition to wildlife habitat. The Rio Grande Trail runs through the property.

The northeast section of the Deer Creek property connects to Arbaney Gulch — a narrow, shaded, high-elevation draw in the White River National Forest that provides vital wildlife habitat. Steep slopes surround the gulch, so it sees little human use. The linked public lands provide a corridor where wildlife can access the Roaring Fork River. An 8-acre sliver of the Deer Creek property crosses the river and Highway 82 onto Williams Hill, another important area for wildlife habitat.

The county leases an existing house on the Deer Creek property to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. It is occupied by the wildlife officer for the Aspen district, which has drastically reduced his response time for wildlife calls, Tennenbaum said. CPW also grazes horses in pastures on the site. The draft management plan contemplates a continued lease of the residence to CPW.

A site plan for the Deer Creek property shows how the long, narrow slice of 38 acres connects national forestland, upper right, to Williams Hill on the lower left. (Pitkin County Open Space/courtesy image)

Open space board member Graeme Means suggested the pastures might be better suited for wildlife habitat.

“I do think re-wilding for the benefit of wildlife is something we should be considering,” he said.

The county’s purchase of the Deer Creek property made some neighbors nervous because they feared the program would add a trail and invite public access. The proposed plan allays those fears. It states “closure of the Upland Zone is in effect year-round to all recreational use.”

Marty Schlumberger, a neighbor to the west, credited the county with preserving the property as a “safe heaven” for wildlife.

“I think your plan is totally in the right direction,” he said.

The draft management plan for Deer Creek Open Space and a link to provide public input will be available at starting on Monday. The comment period will be open for one month. More information on wildlife use of Arbaney Gulch is available at