Dogs banned on new trail | AspenTimes.com

Dogs banned on new trail

The section of trail between Catherine Store Bridge and Hook Spur Lane will be closed between December and May in order to protect wildlife. (Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times)

Dogs will be banned and humans restricted on the newest stretch of the Rio Grande Trail in the midvalley, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board decided Thursday.RFTA’s board of directors accepted the advice of a consultant, wildlife biologist Jonathon Lowsky, to close 2.75 miles of the trail to any use from Dec. 1 until May 1. Lowsky said the seasonal closure will limit effects on wildlife, including deer and elk during winters and blue herons in the spring.The closure will be in place between Catherine Bridge and Rock Bottom Ranch, a midvalley nature center affiliated with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.RFTA just completed a 4-mile section of trail that includes the environmentally sensitive stretch. The cost to build the trail from Hooks Lane to Catherine Bridge was $1.2 million. It was the last link needed to travel between Aspen and Carbondale on the old railroad right of way. RFTA plans to extend the trail to Glenwood Springs by 2010.

A grand opening of the new stretch will be held Saturday, Oct. 21, from noon to 4 p.m. at Rock Bottom Ranch. The public is invited.The dog ban and seasonal closure was approved 6-0 by RFTA’s board. Lowsky’s recommendation followed the wishes of the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “This section of the Rio Grande railroad corridor has been relatively unused and free from disturbance in the past, which has caused its wildlife usage, diversity and value to increase,” area wildlife manager Perry Will wrote in a letter to RFTA.Lowsky urged a dog ban rather than a leash law because of the tricky issue of compliance. “If you could tell me that one hundred percent of people would have their dogs on a leash and by their side, I’d say fine,” he said. Experience shows many people let their dogs off to have a better outdoor experience, he said.Snowmass Village Councilman and RFTA board member Arnie Mordkin went along with the recommendations but he noted that RFTA’s responsibility is to promote transit. He said he was reluctant to close any part of the corridor for any amount of time, even if the closure benefits wildlife.

“I know it’s going to be in the paper ‘Mordkin hates wildlife,'” he quipped.Jim Duke, a wildlife advocate and trail neighbor, said he is concerned that the restrictions will gradually be eased as the trail use increases.”The animals aren’t going to be coming in here and pressuring you for more protection,” Duke said. “People are going to be coming in pressuring you for more recreation.”Jacque Whitsitt, chairwoman of the Midvalley Trails Committee, said she thought RFTA did “a great job” with the project and the management plan. She disputed Duke’s claim that the restrictions will easily be changed in the future. She said as long as she, Duke and some other observers “have a heartbeat we’ll be in here” if RFTA tries to ease the restrictions without solid scientific backing.

Duke fears the science could be slanted. If trail use chases wildlife away from the corridor there could be two ways of looking at it – one, that management must be changed to better accommodate the wildlife or, two, that restrictions might as well as be eased since the wildlife isn’t there, according to Duke.Lowsky will monitor deer and elk usage of the corridor, the presence of bald eagles during winter, blue heron use of existing rookeries near the trail and songbirds. The management plan will be reviewed annually. Any changes can be made only after 30 days notice.RFTA will try to enforce the closure by placing large gates on the trail at Catherine Bridge and Rock Bottom Ranch. However, officials acknowledged that enforcement will be tough.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.

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