‘It’s a zoo’ at Aspen’s North Star Nature Preserve | AspenTimes.com

‘It’s a zoo’ at Aspen’s North Star Nature Preserve

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times
Andre Wille picked up this trash on his property, near the North Star Nature Preserve put-in, Saturday afternoon.
Jason Auslander/The Aspen Times |

Flotillas of boaters, floaters and paddleboarders, vigilant neighbors, a bit of trash and water cold enough to turn back Wisconsin natives.

That was the scene Saturday at the North Star Nature Preserve, a week after the area was trashed by the largest number of users the area has seen.

“It’s a zoo,” said Andre Wille, who lives just down from the put-in near Wildwood School.

And while Saturday didn’t clock nearly the same number of boaters as the Fourth — Wille recorded 391 people floating down the river that day — similar problems cropped up.

At the put-in, a discarded green and white raft filled with empty plastic water bottles sat near the sign warning boaters to keep their dogs in their boats at all times.

Shawn DeWolfe, an Aspen native, and his friend Aaron Hipple of Basalt were pumping up their paddleboards for a trip through the preserve. DeWolfe said he’s been floating the preserve for years and has noticed many more people just in the last year.

“It used to be a quiet nature preserve,” he said. “Now it’s tubers and beer. It’s ruining the nature preserve.”

At Wille’s house right on the river, in the span of about 20 minutes, about 15 people floated by Saturday afternoon — some loud and boisterous, others quiet and contemplative. Just on Saturday, Wille pulled from the water a stray flip-flop, an empty plastic water bottle and two discarded rafts.

“I find a lot of debris,” he said. “Inner tubes — people just abandon them. And you wouldn’t believe the things people just yell down the river.”

He said that during high water this year, he heard a girl in the river on his property yelling, “Help me, help me.” He assisted her out of the water and she was OK, but when her friends came to get her, one of their dogs ran inside his house.

Wille said he doesn’t have a problem with people floating the river because it’s a beautiful way to see a pristine, riparian ecosystem. However, he wishes they would leave their dogs and boomboxes at home, pack out their trash, keep their voices down and respect private property.

“It’s a great way for people to appreciate rivers and riparian wildlife,” Wille said. “But I’m worried they don’t get it.”

He said he supports a management plan now under consideration by the Pitkin County Board of Commissioners that would increase enforcement and add to the preserve’s rules. (See Monday’s Aspen Times for more about the plan.)

At the takeout at Stillwater Bridge on Saturday, three Wisconsin natives sat overlooking the water. One of them, Chase Faschingbauer, said he and his friends met some girls the night before in Aspen who invited them along on a float through the preserve.

However, the three only made it about 100 yards from the put-in before the icy water forced them off the river.

“We got out and walked through a guy’s yard,” said Faschingbauer, 19. “Then we walked 21/2 miles down the road barefoot. My feet are raw.”

He was sitting with his friends Nick Zemen, 19, and Wade Melberg, 18, waiting for the girls to arrive at the takeout.

“Girls are nothing but trouble,” Zemen said.

Rangers with the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Department picked up a large amount of trash after the Fourth of July festivities, including discarded inner tubes, beer cans, a child’s swimming pool and a mini trampoline. They also counted between 40 and 50 cars at the put-in.

Ptkin County commissioners are set to vote on the adoption of the updated management plan for the preserve July 22 and Aug. 12.