Leash your dog on Smuggler (for now)
Until the COVID-19 pandemic passes, all dogs must be leashed on trails in the Aspen area and Pitkin County starting immediately.
That was the word Tuesday from Pitkin County commissioners, who made the decision to close three specific trails that allow off-leash dogs under verbal command because of worries about possible human-to-human contact that dog entanglements might provoke.
“It’s really about social distancing,” Commissioner Patti Clapper said. “In my mind, it’s something we need to do.”
Still, rules allowing off-leash dogs on Smuggler Mountain, the Hunter Creek Cutoff Trail and an approximately mile-long section of the Jaffee River Trail in Woody Creek will be reinstated once the virus recedes, she said.
“I want people to know this is not forever,” Clapper said. “It’s an interim step because of the coronavirus issue.”
And while at least one commissioner said he’d received a complaint from a resident, county Open Space and Trails Director Gary Tennenbaum said rangers haven’t seen many problems on local trails with social distancing or with out-of-control dogs.
“What we’re seeing (is) an increase of use,” he said. “We’re not seeing issues with enforcement.”
An “increase in use” is a bit of an understatement, however, according to Open Space statistics.
In fact, since Gov. Jared Polis closed ski resorts March 14, use of the most popular trails in the county has nearly doubled, Tennenbaum said.
“According to trail counters, March 2020 saw 11,000 more visits than March 2019,” he said in a memo to commissioners. “For perspective, March (2020) visits at Smuggler Mountain and Arbaney-Kittle outpaced total visits for peak tourist season in July 2019.”
Smuggler Mountain received 7,712 visits in March 2019 and 9,352 visits last month, while Arbaney-Kittle in the Basalt area saw 2,355 visitors in March 2019 and 4,173 users last month, according to the statistics. The Rio Grande Trail saw the largest increase in users, from 6,493 in March 2019 to 11,670 last month.
Open space rangers will post signs with the new leash changes, Tennenbaum said.
Commissioners voted to strike a paragraph from the original draft of the ordinance, which cited “a report” indicating that animals “including dogs” could pass on the virus. No evidence of transmission by or to dogs or cats has yet been found.
County retrains workers to process emergency cash
Pitkin County transferred employees from other departments shuttered because of the coronavirus and retrained them to help process the hundreds of emergency cash assistance applications it has received from residents, county Manager Jon Peacock said Tuesday.
The 32 employees began working Monday on the more than 1,200 applications the county has so far received from residents who lost their jobs, he said. About 60 were processed Monday, he said, and they hoped to process between 80 and 100 more Tuesday.
“We’re really starting to hit our stride and get these dollars on the street,” Peacock said.
So far, county employees and volunteers from Aspen Skiing Co. have processed 359 applications affecting more than 650 people, and handed out and average of $968, he said. The county has an extra 40 people now working on approving applications.
Pitkin County commissioners have so far allocated $850,000 to COVID-19 relief efforts, with another $150,000 held in a separate emergency fund. That money will last through April and into May, “but maybe not through May,” Peacock said.
He has previously warned that commissioners likely would have to contribute more money to the emergency assistance program.
However, Peacock noted that Aspen city councilors recently put millions toward relief efforts, and also said private donations “are starting to pick up.” Some of those donations have specifically been earmarked for emergency cash assistance, Peacock said.
“We will be giving credit and well-deserved thank-yous” in the near future, Peacock said Tuesday.
Airport committee to present recommendations to BOCC
After more than a year of examining what Aspen’s new airport should look like, three members of the main committee in charge of the effort will present recommendations Thursday to the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners.
The virtual meeting will take place at 4 p.m. and can be viewed by going to Pitkin County’s website at pitkincounty.com and clicking on the icon that says “Watch Meetings.” Only written comments — which can be emailed to email@example.com — will be accepted at Thursday’s meeting.
Commissioners initially wanted to receive the recommendations and public comment at the same time and were looking to book a larger room like the Doerr-Hosier Center at the Aspen Institute for the meeting. However, the COVID-19 pandemic occurred instead, and threw a wrench into those plans.
Commissioners will take public comment on the airport recommendations in person at a later date. The county board will eventually make the final decisions on the size of the airport terminal and whether to widen the runway to accommodate larger planes.
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The fact that Heritage Fire was able to happen at all, amid a global pandemic still emerging from shutdown 16 months ago and during a steady afternoon rainstorm in Snowmass, may be a testament to how hungry for connection we’ve become