Forest Service prohibits dogs on North Star floats

New rules include glass ban on Roaring Fork River section east of Aspen; Director: “People were ... breaking glass and dogs were running all over”

Dogs are no longer allowed to ride on water crafts through the North Star Nature Preserve section of the Roaring Fork River. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The dog days of summer at the North Star Nature Preserve are no more.

This year, for the first time ever, dogs will not be allowed to float with their owners down the Roaring Fork River through the sublime wildlife preserve east of Aspen, officials said last week.

“We signed a special order (prohibiting dogs) for that area late in the season last year,” said Kevin Warner, the U.S. Forest Service’s district ranger for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District. “We were trying to better align with Pitkin County open space regulations on adjacent parcels.”

Dogs have never been allowed in the North Star Preserve because they tend to disturb wildlife, especially moose. However, dogs were previously allowed to float with their owners on kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and other watercraft — though they were not allowed to leave the water — because the Forest Service owns the Wildwood put-in and allowed dogs on that property.

However, White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams signed the special order Aug. 17 prohibiting both dogs and glass containers at the Wildwood boat launch area because allowing those things at Wildwood was causing a management headache for Pitkin County open space officials, Warner said.

The order, which took time to work through last summer, was not particularly notable then because by the time it was issued the water levels were low and not many boaters were floating the preserve, he said.

Gary Tennenbaum, director of the Open Space and Trails program, said the two new prohibitions are meant to protect the river, the natural resources and wildlife.

“People were dropping glass and breaking glass and dogs were running all over,” he said. “So that’s a big change this year.”

Those who violate the Forest Service special order are subject to as many as six months in jail and/or a fine of not more than $5,000, according to the order.

Ryan Reisenberg, left, and Ben Hart set out from the Wildwood put in at North Star Nature Preserve for their first paddle of the season in Aspen on Friday, April 30, 2021. Friday had a high of 72 degrees bringing summer temperatures to the valley. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

As in previous years, a forest protection officer hired by the Forest Service but paid for by Pitkin County will be posted at Wildwood to try to control the often-chaotic scene there, Tennenbaum said.

Parking and partying are the other two main issues that open space officials must deal with at North Star, he said.

Open Space and Trails rangers last year were given authority by the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office to enforce parking rules along Highway 82 in the North Star area. This year, the program leased right-of-way areas along the highway near the Southgate parking area and the Stillwater takeout from the Colorado Department of Transportation to better control the parking situation, he said.

Prior to last year, the take-out area was frequently a chaotic free-for-all, with cars parked haphazardly along and sometimes within the road, while boaters frequently wandered into and across the highway without paying attention to traffic. But beginning in 2020, the open space program began enforcing the parking prohibition at Stillwater.

“When people didn’t park all over the place at the takeout, we saw a significant improvement (there),” Tennenbaum said. “It’s less convenient, but so much safer for everybody.”

The open space-issued parking tickets forced people to be more creative in accessing North Star, he said, which is what planners wanted. They have encouraged boaters not to park at the Wildwood put-in — where parking is extremely limited — and instead drop off people and gear there, drive back to one of the parking areas near the takeout, then bike back via the East of Aspen Trail to the put-in, where bikes can be locked up at a rack.

Parking is limited to just five areas along the highway parallel to North Star including Wildwood. Cars can only park briefly at the takeout to load-up gear but cannot park at all along the highway at Stillwater. Several expedition companies based in Aspen also run shuttle services to North Star.

And while alcohol is allowed on the river, it tends to engender noise and is a constant battle, he said. Tennenbaum encouraged boaters to stay as quiet as possible.

“Our biggest problem is partying,” he said. “When people play music, or there’s 50 friends partying and drinking, they get louder and kill the whole nature preserve part of the whole thing.”

While the cool spring weather of late has not made the best floating conditions, North Star is currently open for boaters. However, there are still two beaver dams in the river that haven’t yet been washed away because of the slow pace of the run-off so far this year, and boaters must figure out how to maneuver around them, he said.

The beaver dams, however, are not likely to be around for much longer.

“It’s still early season,” Tennenbaum said. “In all the time I’ve been here, I’ve never seen a beaver dam last all summer.”

Floating the approximately 3-mile section of river through the North Star Nature Preserve does not require a permit and is free. Boaters can stop along the way and admire the beauty, but cannot leave the river because most of the preserve is closed to human activity to protect wildlife.

The only spot boaters are allowed to leave the river is at the Beach area, about a half-mile before the Stillwater takeout.


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