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Nature center to block wildlife?

Jeremy Heiman

A Snowmass Village town councilman says a nature center the council approved Monday will be built squarely in the last remaining undeveloped portion of a major elk migration corridor.

The Town Council endorsed the building with a 4-1 vote on second reading, with Councilman Jack Hatfield in opposition. While Hatfield and local wildlife advocate Dan Kitchen contend the building will impede the elk herd’s seasonal movements, Dawn Keating, the town’s wildlife specialist, says the herd now uses a different route.

The purpose of the center is to educate both locals and visitors about wildlife. The building is to be up to 2,800 square feet in size, Hatfield said, and to be paid for by a fund-raising campaign. The cost of the center has not been determined.

The board also voted to rezone a small parcel near the town’s maintenance facility on Owl Creek Road for the project. The zoning change is from a “conservation” zone district to “public” – a zone district which accommodates public facilities.

Hatfield said the choice of the site for the center is self-defeating. “Essentially, we’re selling out the very thing we’ve tried to preserve all these years,” he said. “The whole idea of a structure of that size in that location offends me.”

Kitchen said the migration corridor, which was once as much as eight miles wide, has been constricted to less than one-half mile already by development in the Buttermilk, Owl Creek and Brush Creek areas in the past 20 years.

“That’s like the eye of the needle,” he said. “The rest of the valley is cut off with fences and houses.”

But Keating contends the site is no longer directly in the migration corridor. Due to increased traffic on Owl Creek, nearby development and the presence of the town’s maintenance building, the elk now migrate farther east. The herd’s preferred route is now on top of Glendale Ridge and through Peter Guber’s fence, she said.

“There are still animals in the area, deer and elk,” she said, “but that is not the area that the majority of the animals migrate through.”

Keating said former Division of Wildlife District Officer Randy Cote and another biologist agreed with her assessment that the area is no longer critical to the herd’s migration.

Hatfield said he believes it has been difficult for Keating to maintain an independent view on the case. “I’m disappointed with her for having a too-close relationship with this board,” he said.

He said a better location for a town environmental center would have been on land newly purchased by the Aspen Skiing Co. at the base of the ski area. “You just don’t go forward when you don’t have the right location,” Hatfield said.

With additional development possible on the Droste property, the Sinclair property, Seven Star Ranch and Guber’s land – all in the migration corridor – Hatfield questioned the wisdom of building anything in the area. “Why do we take the first step,” he asked, “eliminating the only part of the corridor that the public has control over?”


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