Ideas for North Star flow at county meeting
Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday suggested prohibiting alcohol at the North Star Nature Preserve, charging people to park and banning river recreation altogether before preliminarily approving a new management plan for the popular area east of Aspen.
“This is a nature preserve, not Six Flags (amusement park),” said Commissioner George Newman, before proposing the alcohol ban. “I just don’t think it’s the right thing to have in a nature preserve.”
Commissioner Rachel Richards also said she’d support a ban on alcohol within the preserve, though it was unclear exactly how that might happen because of various jurisdictional issues associated with the preserve.
North Star is a 245-acre preserve located just east of town and includes riparian wildlife habitat as well as one of the only nearby flat stretches of the Roaring Fork River. And it’s that stretch of river that’s become a problem in recent years thanks to an explosion in the number of rafters, tubers, kayakers and paddleboarders who use it.
Neighbors who live along the preserve as well as other users have complained of loud music, boisterous alcohol use, screaming and yelling, trash and parking problems at the put-in near Wildwood School and the takeout about 3 miles down Highway 82 at Stillwater Bridge.
On Wednesday, Commissioner Michael Owsley suggested a moratorium on all river uses for five years to study what would happen to the preserve without recreation. And while a member of the Pitkin County staff said Colorado law likely wouldn’t allow that because water in the state belongs to its citizens, Owsley continued to push for the ban.
“I think you can ban recreation,” he said.
Richards said she was concerned about people’s right to float the river and suggested that a ban might turn neighbor against neighbor. Instead, she advocated for a well-managed, regulated and enforced preserve where the rules and the fines for breaking them are clearly displayed and people might have to pay to park and/or pay for a permit.
Gary Tennenbaum, assistant director of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, said the new management plan strengthens the old plan passed in 2000 and attempts to deal with the problems that have come up, mainly in the past five years.
One of the major goals of the new plan is to keep floodwaters from quickly going back into the river, thereby re-establishing wetlands and ground water, Tennenbaum said. Another tenet of the plan includes permanently closing an area where blue herons nest and creating an observational area for people to see the birds as well as a “nest cam” to monitor the birds.
As far as the river itself, open space officials have established floating patrols to educate people about the area and are working with the Forest Service on an agreement that allows Pitkin County rangers to mange the put-in, which is on Forest Service land, regulate parking and implement a “quiet zone,” he said.
Wednesday’s meeting wasn’t the official public hearing for the new management plan but commissioners did allow people who attended to speak.
Elizabeth Boyles, who lives near the Wildwood put-in, said members of the Wildwood Lane Association have already spent $17,200 on road-related costs this summer, many of which were prompted by the increased number of cars parking at the put-in.
She said Wildwood School officials called sheriff’s deputies July 3 after a mother reported that she couldn’t drop her child off at the school because of all the traffic, then became too scared to get out of her car because she asked people to move and they were abusive. Sheriff’s deputies also had to escort the school bus in and out that day, Boyles said.
Another issue Boyles raised was children on tubes, which are hard to navigate, ending up cold and screaming in the water with no life jackets.
Julie Wille, another neighbor, said her husband has been monitoring the number of users coming down the river and found on a recent “normal” day, 340 people floated through the preserve.
Charlie MacArthur, owner of Aspen Kayak and Stand Up Paddle, told commissioners it would be “a real shame” to lose access to North Star because it is the only flat stretch of water close to Aspen. He said he supported a quiet zone and the alcohol ban.
The final reading for the new management plan and the official public hearing will take place Aug. 12.
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Aspen Sister Cities members dedicated a plaque in Sister Cities Plaza to Don Sheeley, who served as president of the organization from 1998 until his death in 2017.