Lenado the latest battle site over access to public lands
September 23, 2009
ASPEN – Pitkin County commissioners struggled Tuesday to solve a dispute between snowmobilers demanding access to national forest and Lenado homeowners praying for peace and quiet.
The commissioners gave tentative approval to a plan to establish between 10 and 15 parking spaces for vehicles and trailers just up the valley from Lenado. They reserved the right to revisit the issue before winter.
John Davis, a county resident and snowmobiling enthusiast, said the parking dispute is just a ruse by some Lenado landowners and residents to get rid of snowmobiles.
“It’s all about we’re a nuisance and we’re loud,” he said.
Davis and other snowmobilers attending Tuesday’s county meeting said they have used the public lands in the mountains above Lenado for 20 years or more. They want to retain access to a popular playground they have used for years.
The bigger issue at the core of the fight over parking in Lenado is the conflict between forest users and private property owners. As the Roaring Fork Valley grows and recreation in the backcountry increases, more conflicts over access are arising, Commissioner George Newman said.
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Irene Davidson, Aspen-Sopris District Ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, said access issues are prevalent at many major gateways to the national forest. While she stayed out of the fray, she noted that parking in Lenado is used “for the local community” and isn’t a portal for destination users.
Homeowners counter that the problem has gotten worse in recent years and is bound to keep growing.
Snowmobilers have used various locations in and around Lenado for parking over the last few decades. For the last several years, the parking area has been along Woody Creek Road beyond the last of the cabins in Lenado, but before the prominent switchback and a bridge over Woody Creek. The county stops plowing the road near that switchback.
Davis and about five other speakers asked the county to maintain the parking there. “It’s a county road that goes into national forest,” Davis said.
Half-Lenadoite and former Aspen City Councilman Frank Peters identified himself to the commissioners as “one of the dastardly property owners” who believes the snowmobiles are a public nuisance. He said he wants the parking moved.
The county has an easement for the road from him and other property owners. That easement doesn’t give the county permission to allow parking alongside the road, he said.
“We believe as property owners the status quo is illegal,” Peters said.
Lenado resident Heather Ridell steered the discussion away from legalities to a more personal level. “I live there. It’s my home,” she told the commissioners.” She said she just wants peace, quiet and safety.
Allowing continued parking, or expanding it, will just invite more snowmobilers to Lenado and draw more traffic to a dangerous, winding stretch of Woody Creek Road below Lenado, she said.
But Lenado homeowner Bug Mead said not everyone in the area feels the snowmobilers are creating problems. “I have friends on both sides of this,” she said.
She suggested the roadside in front of her property could be used for some of the parking. Mead said she doesn’t want any group of forest users prevented from using public lands.
“I have really strong feelings that the national forests should be accessible,” Mead said.
For now, it will remain accessible for snowmobilers out of Lenado. The county commissioners reluctantly endorsed a county staff recommendation to widen Woody Creek Road to create parking for 10 to 15 vehicles in the area currently used for unloading sleds and parking vehicles. The commissioners want signs posted that make it clear where parking is allowed and where it is illegal. They will ask the sheriff’s office to step up patrols for speeding on Woody Creek Road in and at the approach to Lenado, and for illegal parking.
Commissioners Rachel Richards and Michael Owsley were least comfortable with the direction. They said snowmobilers who make the trip to Lenado will park even if the spots are filled, which means the issue will be back before them.
The commissioners agreed to review the staff proposal once more before it is implemented this fall.