Grooming of nordic trails may slide due to budget problems | AspenTimes.com

Grooming of nordic trails may slide due to budget problems

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Nordic skiers may find themselves breaking trail this winter as a result of Pitkin County?s budget woes.

Aspen?s Parks Department will significantly reduce trail maintenance on certain sections of track if the one-third of the nordic-trails budget that comes from county coffers disappears, according to Jeff Woods, parks director.

?Where it?s going to slide is in the county,? he said.

Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village were each slated to contribute $55,194 this winter for the daily grooming of 70 kilometers of cross-country ski trails that make up the system, Woods said. The Parks Department handles the maintenance work with funding provided by all three entities.

The county has indicated it won?t be able to pay for its share if its proposed property tax increase doesn?t win voter approval in November, Woods said.

Roughly 75 percent of the trails are located within the city of Aspen or town of Snowmass Village and would be unaffected by the cutback, but some popular routes in the county would be left ungroomed for the most part, he said.

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?You lose a couple of the premier ones,? Woods said.

Affected trails would include the loop at the North Star Nature Preserve east of Aspen and the Owl Creek Trail, which connects Buttermilk and Snowmass Village.

?Owl Creek is a really popular cross-country experience,? Woods said. ?That?s my favorite trail.?

Also in the county are the loop on the Moore Open Space and part of the Rio Grande Trail.

The Aspen-Snowmass Nordic Council intends to ask the county?s Open Space and Trails Board if it would like to fund trail maintenance on the two pieces of county open space that are part of the nordic system ? North Star and the Moore property, Woods said.

Without any county funding, the county trails would be groomed very infrequently ? perhaps once a month, Woods said.

?They?d definitely become classic tracks,? he said. ?We definitely wouldn?t be setting them up for skating or anything.?

The Aspen-Snowmass system of nordic trails is the most extensive free system in the country, according to Woods. The Nordic Council has never contemplated charging skiers to use the groomed tracks, he said, and it would be difficult to implement a fee anyway, given the varied access points to the trails around the county. Municipalities that charge for nordic skiing typically have a trail system that is confined to a specific area, like a golf course.

?There?s been no discussion of that [fees] up to this point, but obviously, if budgets get tighter, we may have to discuss that in the future,? Woods said.

Given this winter?s anticipated loss of money from the county and the resulting cutback in trail maintenance, the Nordic Council has agreed to cut back on the staff that maintains the system, according to Woods.

The Parks Department will employ four people instead of five to handle the daily grooming of the system for classic and skate-style skiing, he said.

Of course, if the county tax question passes and the funds are reinstated, a full staff would likely be employed and all of the system would be groomed as usual, Woods added.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]

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