Forest protection officer is ‘gonna happen’
Plans to hire a forest protection officer to help supervise the North Star Nature Preserve and other popular outdoor areas in Pitkin County are zooming right along.
The city of Aspen and a private landowner who lives in the North Star subdivision have already committed $5,000 each toward funding the $25,000 position, while other sources of money may be forthcoming, said Gary Tennenbaum, assistant director of Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails Program.
Further, a part-time U.S. Forest Service employee who lives and works in Pitkin County and has been trained as a forest protection officer has already been identified as a prime candidate and is interested in the job, said Martha Moran, the Forest Service’s recreation staff supervisor for the White River National Forest.
“It’s a good fit for this person,” Moran said. “She’s very interested.”
Tennenbaum and Moran made the comments Thursday at the regular meeting of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board, whose members were mostly supportive of the somewhat unorthodox though not unprecedented public-private, county-federal partnership.
However, board member Hawk Greenway voted against the proposal, saying he wanted to send a message to “Colorado politicians who believe the White River National Forest doesn’t matter.”
Greenway, who recently announced plans to run for the county board of commissioners, said it is “unconscionable” for the federal government to continue to cut the Forest Service budget. The White River National Forest makes more money in annual fees than it receives in funding, which means employees and budgets for the forest continue to be slashed, he said.
“It makes me furious,” Greenway said. “We’re in the role of the enabler. I don’t think we should use Pitkin County funds to supplement (the federal government).”
The idea of a forest protection officer grew out of problems associated with the growing popularity of float trips through the North Star Nature Preserve, located just east of Aspen. The stretch of flat water provides a cool summer excursion for scores of paddleboarders, rafters and tubers.
But that popularity has caused serious parking issues at the Wildwood put-in, including cars blocking access to the Wildwood School, clogging fire lanes and parking along the entrance road and Highway 82. The problem lies in the fact that the Forest Service owns the Wildwood put-in but does not have the personnel to patrol the area and enforce parking rules. The rest of the preserve is owned by the open space program.
Open space officials initially hoped to simply deputize the county’s open space rangers to be able to enforce the parking situation. However, because they are neither law enforcement officers nor federal employees, that wasn’t possible.
Tennenbaum then hit on the idea of a forest protection officer, which has been used to patrol the Hanging Lake area near Glenwood Springs in recent years. The position would technically be a Forest Service employee, though the person would be paid by local entities, Tennenbaum has said.
As the idea has received more publicity, it has become more popular with government entities as well as private landowners, Tennenbaum said. In addition to the city of Aspen and the one private landowner who have already committed funds, another private landowner has expressed interest in doing so and the Healthy Rivers and Streams Board also might contribute, he said.
“It’s gonna happen,” Tennenbaum said Thursday.
Moran said the new forest protection officer will also concentrate enforcement efforts in the Smuggler/Hunter Creek area as well as in the Castle Creek Valley. The position will not be a law enforcement officer and will only have the power to write misdemeanor citations, she said.
The forest protection officer will work Friday through Monday between May 15 and Sept. 30, Moran said. The person she has in mind for the job currently drives a bus in Snowmass Village and has been a Forest Service seasonal employee for the past 15 years, she said. Moran declined to release the woman’s name Thursday.
Open Space and Trails board members voted 3-1 to recommend that county commissioners fund the position. Board member Tai Jacober was not present Thursday.
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