Droste opportunities: new trails, fossil finds | AspenTimes.com

Droste opportunities: new trails, fossil finds

Janet UrquhartThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO, Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – A frenzy of trail building on the Droste open space next year could give hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians some room to spread out on what Pitkin County Open Space and Trails officials say has proven a hugely popular destination since it opened in the spring.And, the handful of prehistoric fossils that have turned up on the Droste ridge are not expected to affect management of the property – at least not yet – though reports of the fossils had at least one Open Space and Trails board member raising her eyebrows last week. “If there’s a fossil bed up there …” said Anne Rickenbaugh, leaving the thought unfinished.”They’re not mastodons,” responded Dale Will, Open Space and Trails director, referring to finds near Snowmass Village that brought enlargement of a reservoir to a temporary halt.The Open Space and Trails office continues to field daily calls from individuals inquiring about how to access the Droste property, which stretches from Highway 82 nearly to Snowmass Village. The highlight of the open space is the ridgeline that separates the Brush Creek and Owl Creek valleys, offering expansive views of the upper Roaring Fork Valley.Count Snowmass Village resident (and Aspen Times columnist) Roger Marolt among the new fans of the property: He said he rides the ridge on his commute to work in Aspen a couple of times a week, and when he’s not in the saddle, he’s examining the rocks on the ground. Marolt has come up with a handful of fossils that are apparently from a prehistoric version of an octopus.”There are all kinds of fossils up there. Most of them are seashells,” said Marolt, who handed a couple of his early finds to the Snowmass Village town manager, who in turn showed them to Denver Museum of Nature & Science chief curator Kirk Johnson for examination. Johnson, who was still in Snowmass for the fossil dig at Ziegler Reservoir at the time, identified them as the fossilized remains of an octopus that dates back 150 million years, Marolt said.”It’s pretty cool,” he said, describing the longest piece as about 2 inches long and perhaps an inch in diameter. They are pieces of tentacle, minus the suction cups.Marolt found the first fossil while he was taking a breather during a bike ride and noticed an unusual rock. It boasts small ridges on one side and a bump, not unlike a knuckle.”I thought it was a piece of an antler,” he said.Marolt said his son found a clam shell fossil on Droste, both sides still connected, that was about the size of his hand.A study of the wildlife, habitat, plant communities and other important features on the Droste property and surrounding open space is under way. A draft is expected to be ready later this summer, according to Gary Tennenbaum, Open Space and Trails land steward. The study’s conclusions will be used to route new trails in order to avoid sensitive areas. Whether one of those areas is a fossil bed remains to be seen.Tennenbaum is already working to line up trail projects on Droste for next summer. He said he’s hoping to enlist the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps for four weeks of work, at $7,000 per week that he has proposed be split by the county, city of Aspen and town of Snowmass Village. All three governments were all contributors to the Droste purchase.He also hopes to arrange a work project on Droste for the Sierra Club and the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers. The RFOV this year helped construct the new trail that accesses Droste from Snowmass Village.”We’re going to see some significant trail building for the next few years,” Tennenbaum said.More trails should help disperse the use on Droste, he said, and designated trails for various users groups has been suggested to prevent conflicts between, for example, equestrians and mountain bikers.One route, however, is likely to be where many people want to be.”The ridge is going to be really tough because everybody wants to be on the ridge,” Tennenbaum said.Still this summer, trails officials hope to widen one of the switchbacks on the trail coming up from Snowmass Village and offer a route that avoids a steep section atop the ridge where the grade is about 30 percent. Avid cyclist and Snowmass Town Councilman John Wilkinson called the pitch “heinous.”Wilkinson, a member of the Snowmass Village Trails Committee, voiced excitement about the prospect of a trail that leads from the Droste ridge down to the Owl Creek side near Snowmass, creating a connection with the existing Tom Blake Trail.”There are so many opportunities – I’ve walked a ton of opportunities,” Tennenbaum said.At present, Droste users can access the ridge via Radar Road, the dirt road that climbs up onto the ridge from behind the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, off Owl Creek Road and the Owl Creek Trail, or via the new trail on the Snowmass side. To reach the new trail, start on the existing Lowline Trail, accessed off Highline Road near the Brush Creek roundabout in Snowmass Village and look for the connector trail to Droste.janet@aspentimes.com