Commissioner hopefuls weigh in on Sky Mountain Park | AspenTimes.com

Commissioner hopefuls weigh in on Sky Mountain Park

Staff report
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – With four individuals seeking election to the Pitkin County commissioner seat in District 4, The Aspen Times has posed a series of questions to the candidates in advance of the June 26 primary.

Their answers will be published throughout this week, concluding on Friday.

Two candidates will advance from the primary to November’s general election. Though the candidates must reside within District 4, they are elected at-large. Voters throughout the county may cast a vote for any one commissioner candidate on the primary ballot.

Today’s question to the candidates: Since District 4 (the seat you’re seeking) encompasses Sky Mountain Park, please explain how you feel about the dog ban covering most of the open space, including the former Droste property. Also, do you see room for flexibility in the wintertime closure period for the open space (Dec. 1 through May 15)?

Their responses:

“I have been a part of the partnership between the city of Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village for the planning of the Sky Mountain Park. The Drostes’ approval for nine homes on the property prohibited even the owners from having dogs on the critical wildlife area.

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“The wildlife survey that was completed in October 2011 strongly recommended that, due to the wildlife, rare plants and birds, dogs be restricted from the Sky Mountain Park.

We have to rely on the experts for their recommendations and I support them. Dogs will still be permitted on the Highline, Lowline and Brush Creek trails.

I would be in favor of considering opening the Brush Creek Trail year-round as recommended in the same survey. It would be a wonderful addition to the nordic trail system in winter. The Snowmass Village nordic trail could be connected to the Rio Grande Trail to make an unbelievable loop for our system!

The fundamental management goal in a Wildland Urban Intermix such as Sky Mountain Park is to ensure the continued health of our forests and wildlife. The challenges emerge when we choose to accommodate access and infringe these settings for ourselves.

In the Brush Creek Valley/Droste Mountain Park Interim Management Plan, dogs are currently allowed on many trails, but must be leashed and all dog waste removed. It’s really not about the dogs, it’s about the dog owners who do or do not adhere to the basics. The balance of the open space is being surveyed to “… set in motion a natural and historical resource study that will be combined with recreation user information to develop the long-term vision and plan for all the properties.”

This is as it should be. Dogs and seasonal closures are being systematically studied to ensure we proceed in a responsible manner. My dog Tiehack and I can’t wait to go.

I learned a long time ago, as a city manager, that dogs are a complex issue. The public is usually split right down the middle on how they feel about them. Dogs under control are not usually an issue; the problem begins when they are allowed to run at large. Their impacts on wildlife are no more than the humans using the trails if they are restrained. I would be in favor of expanding the area that they can be exercised if they are leashed. If it is abused and becomes unenforceable than most likely their range will need to be restricted.

Similarly, the use by humans, and the mode of travel utilized, varies depending on the circumstances, especially concerning the weather. In a low-snow year, the elk have generally vacated the area by May 15 as they follow the snow line utilizing the new growth, highly nutritional grasses, that sprout behind the melting snow. In a heavy snow year, they more than likely will not move out of the Wildcat area until the snows recede. I would be in favor of a system that sets the time restraints based on the facts surrounding the year and not a hard-and-fast set of dates that may be baseless.

I feel that the ban on dogs is appropriate given the likelihood of conflicts between dogs and wildlife, bikers, horseback riders and other hikers. It might be possible to allow dogs to go there on leashes, but many people tend to let their dogs off the leash once they are away from the beginning of a trail. This abuse would quickly lead to reinstating a full ban on dogs.

There are many miles of other trails in the area where dogs are already allowed to go, and people should use these trails if they want to take their dogs along for exercise and companionship.

A flexible period of trail closure is very appropriate. Once the elk have left the property to their calving grounds on Owl Creek and Burnt Mountain, there is no reason not to let people start using the area.