Horseback plan faces bumpy ride
ASPEN Local mountain bikers are geared up to fight a proposed horseback riding operation at Buttermilk this summer, if the horses are to set foot on Government Trail.Aspen Wilderness Outfitters, displaced from its traditional stomping ground at Snowmass by Base Village construction, is seeking a temporary commercial-use permit to run its horseback riding operation at Buttermilk from June through September.The permit application will go to Pitkin County commissioners for approval when they meet Wednesday, May 23. The permit could be approved administratively, according to county planner Ezra Louthis, but the proposal has generated enough public interest to warrant review by the commissioners.The Aspen Cycling Club is among those that responded by Wednesday’s deadline for comments on the application. While the club doesn’t object to horses at Buttermilk, members say use of Government Trail by horses is incompatible with mountain biking and hiking on the coveted singletrack. The trail crosses the face of Buttermilk and extends beyond the ski area boundary at West Buttermilk, linking up with Snowmass Ski Area to the west.Jon Hardin, owner of Aspen Wilderness Outfitters, said he’s seeking a place to run his operation during Base Village construction and considers Buttermilk a logical choice, given its proximity to both Aspen and Snowmass Village. Last year, he moved the operation to Two Creeks at Snowmass but called that area “pretty constrained.”His operation has long held a permit to use Government Trail on a limited basis – 75 times a year – but the Monday-through-Saturday rides he hopes to offer this summer at Buttermilk will remain within the ski area, primarily using Homestead Road, which winds from the base to the summit, and the Oregon Trail, which links base of the Tiehack side to the base of main Buttermilk.Hardin said it’s not his intention to use Government Trail, though horses will have to cross it while they’re walking the road on the mountain.His application, however, reads: “… wranglers could loop to part of Government Trail still on [the] ski area, connecting to summer road higher on the mountain and following the road back to the base.””The application is saying, yes, they will impact the Government Trail as well,” Louthis said.The application proposes keeping up to 20 horses in a corral at the base, serving an average of 15 to 20 riders per day.The cycling club, which helps maintain Government Trail, predicts conflicts with bicyclists and hikers, and damage to the trail if horses are allowed on it.”We have no problem with them using the roads, but if they come on the Government Trail – that’s sacred ground as far as we’re concerned,” said Erik Skarvan, club vice president.Use of Buttermilk by Aspen Wilderness Outfitters will also require U.S. Forest Service approval. The agency anticipates seeing the proposal within the Aspen Skiing Co.’s summer construction and operating plan, due by June 1, according to Jim Stark, winter sports administrator for the Forest Service. Since the Skico holds the ski area permit at Buttermilk, the horseback business would operate under that permit, Stark said.Still, the Forest Service has already had some preliminary discussion on the horseback operation and has given it a “conceptual thumbs-up,” he said.The agency may well allow a trial run this summer, said Stark, though it foresees potential conflicts with the multitude of hikers and dogs that use both Homestead Road and the ski slopes at Buttermilk during the summer months.”There may be some social issues,” Stark said. “There’s a ton of people, and a lot of them use that existing road.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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