Midvalley residents object to proposed BLM winter closures
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
BASALT – The prospect of new winter closures on trails in the midvalley has sparked objections from some Basalt residents, one of whom compared the approach to cutting off access to Smuggler Mountain or Hunter Creek for Aspen residents.
The proposed closure of lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management on Light Hill, Arbaney Mesa, the Crown and Williams Hill come from Pitkin County in its comments on the BLM’s draft Resource Management Plan. The county is recommending that the BLM adopt a Winter Core Wildlife Area designation for those areas, with a full winter closure from Dec. 1 through April 30, regardless of snow levels. The county also proposed a similar stipulation for the Thompson Creek area outside of Carbondale, or a closure there as recommended by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
“I think everybody acknowledges there needs to be a better balance, but I think Pitkin County has taken it to the extreme,” said George Trantow, a member of the Basalt Parks, Open Space and Trails Committee as well as the Midvalley Trails Committee.
Trantow said he doesn’t necessarily oppose winter closures on BLM land, but wants to see them come out of a public process that considers both recreation and wildlife.
Basalt resident Scott Slogan agreed.
“I’m OK with a closure if there’s a process and everybody agrees on a closure,” he said.
In a letter to the editor, Slogan wrote: “Pitkin County’s recommendations to the BLM regarding trail closures are single minded, hypocritical and without a public input process. They have based their decision to recommend winter closures (Dec-May) for BLM areas around Basalt and Carbondale on the advice of one entity, the Colorado DOW.”
A local wildlife official, however, said the Colorado Parks and Wildlife recommendation on the BLM plan doesn’t go as far as the county’s, as least as it relates to Light Hill.
Julie Kolar, also a member of the Basalt Parks, Open Space and Trails Committee, suggested in her letter to the editor that county commissioners are disregarding the well-being of Basalt residents.
And, she wrote: “Losing winter access to both Light Hill and Arbaney Kittle in Basalt is the equivalent to losing both Smuggler and Hunter Creek trail in Aspen or Red Hill in Carbondale. And while I understand that habitat is critical, we are only talking about a handful of miles of trails with somewhat limited use already, within thousands and thousands of acres of habitat.”
It is Arbaney Mesa, however, not Arbaney Kittle that is recommended for the winter closure.
Kolar also offered her personal input to the BLM: “Basalt is already incredibly restricted by the DOW in all of the trails that surround Downtown and Old Town. Further restriction on BLM lands would be heartbreaking.”
She’s encouraging others to submit their comments to the BLM, as well.
Basalt’s town government is also weighing in on the BLM management plan. The Town Council approved the town’s comments Tuesday with some tweaking, but winter closures aren’t specifically addressed, said Susan Philp, planning director. The town does call for a collaborative planning process for Light Hill, Williams Hill, Arbaney Mesa and the Crown.
“We weren’t weighing in on which areas should potentially be closed in the winter,” Philp said. “People feel very strongly one way or the other on some of these issues.”
The BLM is accepting comments on its draft management plan through Jan. 17. It will refine its proposal to manage 505,000 surface acres and 707,000 acres of subsurface minerals that are under the purview of the agency’s Colorado River Valley Field Office based on the input of various government agencies, conservation and user groups, and private citizens.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife, formerly the Division of Wildlife (DOW), will give its input, but the agency’s local district wildlife manager, Kevin Wright, predicted Thursday that on Light Hill, at least, winter hikers will continue to be accommodated on some level.
“Yes, I would like to have a full human-activity closure,” he said. “In an ideal world, it should be closed. Realistically, will it? No,” he said.
Light Hill stretches between Old Snowmass and Emma, west of Highway 82, and provides important winter big-game habitat, according to Wright. He said his agency is recommending continued winter access from the Gateway subdivision in Old Snowmass and from East Sopris Creek Road. In both cases, dirt roads climb up to a ridge. A closure is proposed at the top of both routes, preventing hikers from traversing the ridge during the winter, but allowing them to hike up to the top then return the way they came.
Access to Light Hill from behind Basalt High School, where the county’s Open Space and Trails program recently acquired property, should be closed in the winter, Wright said.
The county has also recommended the closure of Arbaney Mesa in the winter, though the Arbaney-Kittle Trail would remain open to the overlook that is the typical turn-around spot for hikers. Land to the east, above the overlook, would be closed under the county’s recommended action. Some midvalley residents mistakenly believe that total winter closure of the Arbaney Kittle Trail is proposed. It is not.
On the Crown, at the base of Mount Sopris, west of El Jebel, the county is calling for a winter closure on 9,100 acres.
The county, in its comments, also proposes determining the “carrying capacity” for areas that are heavily used by the public, including the Crown, Light Hill and Arbaney-Kittle area, and establishing collaborative groups to help with education and enforcement of rules to be established in management decisions for the parcels.
Go to http://www.aspentimes.com/BLM to review the BLM’s draft management plan or make comments.
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