High ﬁre danger scuttles trail, habitat efforts
July 2, 2012
PITKIN COUNTY – High fire danger has scuttled plans to send a chain saw-wielding crew into heavy scrub oak to cut a new trail at Sky Mountain Park this summer.
The 2.3-mile Cozyline Trail, which is to connect Cozy Point South, at the intersection of Brush Creek Road and Highway 82, to Skyline Ridge Trail won’t be constructed this season as scheduled, according to Gary Tennenbaum, land steward with Pitkin County Open Space and Trails.
A Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crew was supposed to spend much of last week cutting a swath through the oak with chain saws in preparation for trail construction, but instead, the group was assigned to continue efforts to reroute steep sections of Skyline Ridge Trail.
The use of a chain saw without a spark arrestor is strictly prohibited under the burn bans in place in the county and across the state, but even with the arrestor, components on chain saws get very hot, Tennenbaum noted.
“It just builds and builds and builds. You put it on some grass, could it go up? Maybe,” he said. “If a lightning strike happens up there, we can’t control that. This we can control. We just don’t want to take the chance.”
Skyline Ridge Trail follows the ridge that separates the Brush Creek and Owl Creek valleys, extending from the outskirts of Snowmass Village nearly to Highway 82. The Cozyline Trail will lead up onto the ridge on the highway end. Fire and smoke in that area could potentially shut down the nearby Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, among other dangers, Tennebaum noted.
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“The reality is, we have to hold off,” he said.
Also off the table this year is about 30 acres of habitat restoration work on Sky Mountain Park. A mechanical mulcher with a rotating chopper was to be used to clear vegetation, but it, too, creates heat, and the project has been postponed. Similar work also was planned on 6 acres of Smuggler Mountain above Aspen; city and county open space officials are contemplating canceling that work, as well.
This was to be the second summer of ambitious habitat improvement work in the White River National Forest surrounding the Roaring Fork Valley, but an early start to the wildfire season led officials to cancel a planned spring burn of acreage above Filoha Meadows in the Crystal River Valley. The Forest Service also had hoped to use a prescribed fire to clear brush in the Avalanche Creek area and use mechanical equipment to chomp shrubs on the north side of Basalt Mountain.
The agency will wait to see if conditions improve, allowing the mechanical clearing to proceed, said Forest Service spokesman Bill Kight.
If a monsoon season develops as the summer wears on, trail crews may still be able to cut the corridor for Cozyline Trail this summer, according to Tennenbaum. Then the route would be ready for trail construction next spring. Area equestrians are anxious for the construction of Cozyline, as it will provide a direct connection between the Cozy Point Ranch equestrian facility and Skyline Ridge Trail.