Middle of night North Star float irks commissioner; neighbors in area concerned about growing safety issues | AspenTimes.com

Middle of night North Star float irks commissioner; neighbors in area concerned about growing safety issues

A group of young people float down the Roaring Fork River at the North Star Nature Preserve last summer.
Aspen Times file photo

The latest complaint about rowdy boater behavior at the popular North Star Nature Preserve float east of Aspen left one Pitkin County commissioner fuming.

“We have a problem,” Commissioner Greg Poschman said Tuesday during the board’s weekly work session. “The resource at North Star is being degraded.”

Poschman said a property owner along the Roaring Fork River within the nature preserve emailed him to report that a group of stand-up paddleboarders floated the river at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday with bright lights and loud music.

“It seems like we have a situation of more and more people enjoying North Star,” he said. “I think we need to open it up and I don’t want to wait until next year. I’d like to see solutions proposed (now).”

Commissioner Patti Clapper, however, pointed out that the summer season will only last another few weeks at this point and that the North Star Master Plan is set to be readdressed next year. That would be best time to try to figure out solutions, she said.

In the meantime, Clapper reiterated that North Star is closed from dusk until dawn and that boaters and floaters are not allowed to play music. Those who witness behavior that contradicts those rules should call the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, she said.

Irv and Stephanie Don are well-aware of the problems at Stillwater because they live across the street from the bridge.

“I’ve had people urinate in front of me,” Stephanie Don said Wednesday. “I’ve almost been hit twice by people trying to turn around.”

She also said she’s seen young children walking in the highway, drunk people wandering aimlessly and people arriving the night before to park a car and reserve a space.

“It’s become a water park, not a nature preserve,” Irv Don said.

The standard float through the North Star preserve from the Wildwood put-in to the take-out at Stillwater Bridge has exploded in popularity in the past few years.

Parking problems a few years ago at Wildwood have been mostly cleared up with the posting of a U.S. Forest Service Protection Officer paid for by the county. In addition, county Open Space and Trails officials have made great strides in curbing rowdy, drunken behavior and the trash that previously accumulated along the riverbanks, said Jessie Young, an environmental planner with the open space program.

However, Poschman said he’s recently seen large groups of people partying on riverbanks, sometimes within feet of “no trespassing” signs informing boaters that they’re in a nature preserve, he said.

Another problem is that the Forest Service could only find one qualified protection officer to hire this year instead of two, Young said. That has meant less enforcement of preserve rules.

Poschman said he’s heard from residents who live in the East of Aspen neighborhood, as well as residents of the community in general, who have complained about the conditions at North Star.

Specifically, the Stillwater take-out is problematic because of limited parking, a lack of respect for the area and a lack of understanding that the road people park along is actually a state highway.

The Dons have lived in their home for 12 years, seven of which were peaceful and quiet. However, parking and crowding problems began about five years ago, they said.

“This has gotten worse every single year,” Stephanie Don said. “This year is out of control.”

She said she’s “extremely frustrated” about the situation, has complained to the Sheriff’s Office repeatedly and fears the situation won’t improve until tragedy strikes.

“The saddest part of this is I fear that change will only happen if someone gets killed,” Stephanie Don said.

Young said Open Space officials will begin outreach efforts in the near future to try to get a head start on next year’s master plan process.

As far as the early-morning paddleboarders on Tuesday, Young said an open space official accessed camera footage and discovered that the offenders did not pass by the program’s camera. That means they likely launched from private property, she said.

Young declined to release the location of the open space program’s camera.

“I just think a lot of people have no idea it’s a nature preserve,” Poschman said.