Gliders land OK to land
Pitkin County has decided to allow commercial paraglider landings at North Star Nature Preserve to continue for the time being.
But the ultimate fate of the North Star landing area will be determined when the Pitkin County commissioners approve a management plan for the preserve. The board will get its first look at the plan, being written by county wildlife biologist Jonathan Lowsky, on Sept. 7, but the document may not be in effect for some time after that.
The board unanimously passed a motion to grant Dick Jackson’s Aspen Expeditions and Aspen Paragliding a permit for all its activities except the use of the North Star site. It will be reviewed in May 2000 to coincide with the renewal of Jackson’s permits from the U.S. Forest Service. The motion included a temporary special use permit which will allow Jackson’s tandem paragliders to continue to land at North Star until the management plan for the preserve is adopted, or for one full year, whichever comes first.
The commissioners faced a meeting room packed with 40 to 50 citizens who came to voice their support or opposition to the use of a half-acre landing site on
the corner of the popular preserve. But the tone of the commentary was generally not combative. Two scientists offered opinions that the preserve should be managed to benefit wildlife and not recreation.
Jackson offered his rebuttal to the scientists, saying, “I’m not going to say that studies aren’t important, but you can prove anything you want with studies.” He said the other negative comments involved a lot of subjectivity.
The commissioners were swayed by arguments from both those who oppose the landings and those who support them. Commissioner Dorothea Farris said all forms of activity, including bird watching, can have a significant impact if the number of participants gets too large. But she said banning other uses would create even more public furor.
“If we say tonight we’re going to ban this and ban cross country skiing [in the preserve] we’re going to have to rent a hall [to accommodate all the people who come to comment],” Farris said.
Commissioner Mick Ireland said incremental increases in numbers and impacts are a real danger. He echoed a comment by Chuck Vidal, who warned that what was once thought of as a privilege is sometimes gradually thought to be a right.
Commission Chairwoman Leslie Lamont said Jackson had made a strong case that the commercial operation at the landing site has had the beneficial effect of regulating the recreational fliers, and she offered the opinion that anglers walking the river-bank may have a greater negative impact on wildlife habitat in the preserve than paraglider landings do.
“I’m not convinced we should put up a fence and prevent all uses,” she said. “Mick’s proposing a temporary use permit. I like that because it keeps the heat on us to get the management plan done.”
North Star is located east of Aspen.
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