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County trails, open space may have new oversight

Jeremy Heiman

The Rio Grande Trail, Hunter Creek Trail, North Star Nature Preserve and other properties are being carefully considered for inclusion in Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails program.

Those properties have been under county ownership since before the existence of the Open Space and Trails program and are managed by the county’s Public Works department. But because Open Space and Trails has a better mechanism to fund maintenance and management of these and other properties, county commissioners are considering transferring them to the program.

The Rio Grande and Hunter Creek trails are the two that pose the fewest obstacles in terms of putting their oversight within the Open Space and Trails program, said Dale Will, new director of the program. There are a few others that are really ripe for inclusion in the Open Space and Trails program, Will said, including the Shadow Mountain Trail and the Lanny White Trail, a link to the Hunter Creek Trail.

Owl Creek Trail has potential for inclusion, as well, he said. But because it may need to be realigned in the near future, if Owl Creek Road is rebuilt, it makes sense for the county to hold off on transferring it, as realignment of a trail owned by Open Space would require a vote of the electorate should a property exchange be necessary.

Old Emma Road, near Basalt, is in a similar state of uncertainty. “The county isn’t sure where they want it,” Will said.

Of the land parcels under consideration for transfer to Open Space, the North Star Nature Preserve east of Aspen is the most prominent. “North Star is definitely the crown jewel of the properties,” Will said. But, there’s a hitch.

“There’s one issue that will require some careful thinking – namely the ongoing commercial use,” Will said. A paragliding operation uses a piece of the preserve for a landing area, and kayaking instruction takes place on the Roaring Fork River within the preserve.

No commercial operations now operate on land managed by Open Space and Trails. “We’d have to figure it out,” Will said.

He said the section of the preserve between the river and Aspen Mountain is ideal for management by his agency, as no human activity is allowed there. All commercial and other recreational uses at North Star take place on a slice of land between Highway 82 and the river.

Perhaps the recreational space could be separated from the other part of the parcel, Will said.

Other parcels under consideration for transfer to Open Space and Trails include land at Castle Creek Valley Ranch, one at Shield O Mesa near Old Snowmass, a 19-acre parcel called Pitkin Reserve and 4.8 acres at Williams Woods.

Agreement between the Open Space and Trails board of trustees and Pitkin County commissioners will be necessary to bring the properties under the Open Space program. The boards are close to consensus now, Will said. The commissioners could then adopt an ordinance transferring the properties to the program with a nominal payment from the Open Space program.

Users of the trails and properties can expect little evident change, Will said. “If anything, the maintenance will be improved,” he said. County Public Works personnel and contractors will still do repairs.

“I’m looking forward to seeing this resolved,” Will said. Board members want to produce an updated map of Open Space properties, and this issue needs to be resolved first, he said.

The only major trails currently under auspices of the Open Space program are the ones built with Open Space and Trails tax dollars – the Basalt-to-Old Snowmass Trail and the East of Aspen Trail.

Open Space and Trails is prepared to take on the task of maintaining county trails because the program, by last year, had accumulated about $1.5 million in its trail maintenance fund since 1990. Current figures aren’t available. That surplus exists because the only two trails presently maintained by the program are relatively new and require little maintenance.


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