Droste, Rio Grande on Open Space to-do list

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – A management plan for the Droste property and public discussion about whether to pave the Rio Grande Trail below Aspen are among the envisioned priorities for the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program in 2011.

Staffers briefed the Open Space and Trails board of trustees on the list Thursday, though further discussion is likely.

The anticipated acquisition of the 742-acre Droste property on the outskirts of Snowmass Village, to be known as Wapiti Ridge Mountain Park, will put an ambitious management plan on the front burner, according to Gary Tennenbaum, Open Space and Trails land steward.

“We’re basically going to go full out on it next year, so we’re ready to build trails, maybe next fall, but definitely in 2012,” he said.

The management plan will address recreation and protection of the property’s resources, and acknowledge the parcel’s connection to adjacent open space owned by the city of Aspen and town of Snowmass Village. Existing trails in and around Snowmass Village in particular should be taken into account, board members said.

Snowmass Village planners need to be involved, Tennenbaum agreed.

“I believe if we don’t include the Snowmass Village properties, we’re going to lose some of that trail connectivity that you’re talking about,” he told the board.

Tennenbaum hopes the management plan can be adopted next winter, meaning construction of trails on the Droste property for mountain biking, hiking and equestrian use would begin in 2012.

“That’s why I don’t think we can build trails by next year,” Tennenbaum said.

The $18 million purchase of the Droste property, involving the three uppervalley governments, a hoped-for Colorado Great Outdoors grant and private donations, was to be completed this year. Whether the transaction will remain on that schedule is uncertain, said Dale Will, Open Space and Trails director.

Next for the Rio Grande

Meanwhile, Open Space and Trails plans to complete most of the paving on a stretch of the Rio Grande Trail in the Woody Creek area this fall. In addition, a new soft-surface trail to parallel the paved stretch is under construction. A bridge over Woody Creek that completes the project will be installed next year. The overall project, between Upper River Road and McLain Flats Road, is expected to cost about $950,000, including $285,000 from a state grant.

Next up, though, is perhaps the most controversial issue regarding the Rio Grande: Should the gravel stretch between McLain Flats Road and Stein Park below Aspen be paved? It will be the only stretch of the trail, which links Aspen and Glenwood Springs, that is not paved.

“The last time we did a public opinion survey, the public was fairly evenly split, with a slight majority wanting to see that paved,” Will said.

It’s possible to provide both a paved and a soft-surface trail along portions of that section of the Rio Grande, Tennenbaum said, but there are some tight areas where a dual-surface trail probably isn’t feasible, he said.

No construction is planned next year, but a “public scoping process” to find out what citizens want for that stretch is on the Open Space and Trails agenda.

Among the other projects envisioned for 2011 is parking along Prince Creek Road, where mountain bikers access the Crown outside of Carbondale; connecting Lazy Glen Trailer Park to the Rio Grande Trail (involving a bridge over the Roaring Fork River) and a management plan for the Gold Butte climbing area outside of Aspen. The latter two projects depend on property being conveyed to the Open Space and Trails program.

Finalization of a plat for the Gold Butte property is close, Tennenbaum said. “We do believe it’s going to be in our hands sooner rather than later.”

Designing the extension of the East of Aspen Trail from Wildwood Lane to the Difficult Campground is also scheduled next year.

Board member Anne Rickenbaugh suggested a trail along Castle Creek Road to the Aspen Music Festival and School campus be added back into the program’s long-range plan.

The trail had been held up by litigation. A ruling was issued in October and an appeal was expected to follow, but Rickenbaugh suggested it’s time the board decide what it wants to do with that project.

“It fell off the radar for obvious reasons. We need to get it back on,” she said.