Key lands remain separate from Open Space Program oversight |

Key lands remain separate from Open Space Program oversight

Jeremy Heiman

Pitkin County commissioners have balked at putting some of the county’s best properties under the Open Space and Trails program.

Those properties are the Rio Grande Trail, North Star Nature Preserve and Wilton Jaffee Park. The reason for the commissioners’ hesitation on North Star and Jaffee Park is the Open Space program has no policy on commercial uses on its properties, and those parcels currently host commercial activities.

The board held back on the Rio Grande Trail because, as Commissioner Shellie Roy Harper pointed out, there’s a strong contingency in the county that still favors using the Rio Grande right of way for rail transit.

Apparently, when the Open Space and Trails charter was drafted, it was assumed that new open space properties would have no commercial use on them. But the North Star Preserve contains a landing site for Aspen Paragliders and sees commercial kayaking use. Jaffee Park, a county property for some years, is used as a launch site by commercial rafting interests.

Open space staff has prepared a list of open space and trail properties that are now supported by the county’s general fund, but would be appropriate under the presently well-funded Open Space program. In addition to the Rio Grande, North Star and Jaffee Park, the properties on the “A” list include Hunter Creek Trail, the Lani White Trail, Shadow Mountain Trail, Penny Hot Springs and parcels at Castle Valley Ranch, Shield-O Mesa, Williams Woods and Pitkin Reserve.

“A” list properties, as Tom Oken, county administrative services director, explained, are properties that could be immediately transferred to Open Space and Trails. “B” list properties need further research and “C” properties looked as though they’re not appropriate for inclusion within the Open Space program at all.

Open Space Director Dale Will said the trails and open space parcels can receive the same expenditures for maintenance whether they are formally transferred into the Open Space and Trails program, in which case they would be legally protected from development by the program’s charter, or simply designated as eligible for maintenance under the program. But he said the Open Space and Trails board of trustees may have a problem with caring for properties not under its auspices.

“The trustees don’t mind paying for maintenance on anything that’s a permanent Open Space property,” Will said. “The argument is going to be on maintenance spending on properties that aren’t protected.

“Every time you take something off the `A’ list and put it on the `B’ list, you increase spending on things that aren’t protected,” Will said.

Jen Pierce, Open Space staff assistant, noted that a blanket policy allowing commercial use on Open Space properties could be ecologically destructive, and insisted the policy, when formulated, take the characteristics of each site into consideration.

The commissioners, with Patti Clapper and Mick Ireland absent, came to a consensus that a policy on commercial activities on open space properties should be developed before bringing North Star and Jaffee Park into the program. They agreed to transfer the other “A” list properties into the program.

“I was hoping they’d transfer the properties and then work on the commercial use question,” Will said after the meeting.

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