Gunnison mining claims might lead to Wildwood put-in at North Star Nature Preserve

Kurt Kalinna prepares to paddle up the Northstar Nature Preserve in Aspen on Wednesday, June 10, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Two donated mining claims accepted Wednesday by Pitkin County commissioners could eventually end up benefiting the North Star Nature Preserve.

The claims are actually in Gunnison County along the Lead King Loop Road in the Upper Crystal Valley, which has experienced an “explosion” of off-road vehicle use in recent years, said Dale Will, acquisition director for Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails program.

The owner of the two mining claims, who lives in Canada, had been trying to donate the land to a conservation organization “rather than selling them for cabin developments,” according to a memo Will wrote to commissioners. Those efforts fell through, and her attorney contacted Will to see if Pitkin County Open Space might be interested in accepting the land.

Before doing anything else, Will contacted Gunnison County, where an assistant county manager told him they’d just as soon Pitkin County accept the donation because the land is in Pitkin County’s watershed and closer to Pitkin County resources than those in Gunnison County, Will said.

And while the property will be managed according to the same conditions as adjacent National Forest land, it will probably not remain Pitkin County’s property long-term, he said. Instead, the land will likely be used in a future land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service.

“We’ve been contemplating (acquiring) the Wildwood boat ramp through an exchange,” Will said. “It could well become part of what we might trade to the Forest Service for Wildwood.”

The Wildwood “boat ramp” is the put-in spot for a popular float trip down the Roaring Fork River through the North Star Nature Preserve, which runs along Highway 82 east of Aspen. The county’s Open Space and Trails program owns most of North Star — other conservation groups own adjacent chunks — but does not own Wildwood, which can become overly crowded with people, vehicles and flotation devices during summer weekends.

That has led to a management partnership in which Pitkin County has paid for Forest Service-hired rangers to supervise the at-times chaotic parking scene at Wildwood over the past few years.

“The best rationale for accepting this (donation) is packaging it with and exchange with the Forest Service and Wildwood,” said Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman. “It will help us better manage the recreation area up there.”

Will said it also will help stem the growth of human activity in the Lead King Basin.

“The retirement of potential building sites will support the overall goals of local citizens to mitigate increasing human activity in this fragile alpine valley,” Will wrote in the memo to commissioners.

The property “is quite steep and forested with a nice stand of aspen,” the memo states. The exact acreage was not included in the memo or Wednesday’s meeting, and Will did not respond to a message Wednesday seeking that information.

The land will be managed by Pitkin County’s Open Space program according to an already adopted “inholdings” plan that will treat it exactly the same as adjacent National Forest land, Will said.

The donated mining claims will be officially accepted Oct. 28 during a regular county board meeting, when a public hearing on the issue will be held.