No more parking proposed in North Star in updated area management plan |

No more parking proposed in North Star in updated area management plan

Jay Morin straps stand-up paddleboards to the top of his SUV alongside Highway 82 Sunday near the Stillwater Bridge take-out for the North Star Nature Preserve.
Anna Stonehouse/Special to The Aspen Times

Local fans of the popular North Star Nature Preserve hoping to see more parking in the near future at its two main access points will be disappointed in a proposed new update to the area’s management plan.

In fact, the update proposes significantly less parking, especially at the Stillwater bridge takeout area where unofficial parking spots along Highway 82 that currently accommodate 30 to 40 vehicles on a busy weekend day would be completely eliminated, possibly by jersey barriers.

“Encouraging behavioral shifts through outreach, education and enforcement will need to be part of a successful future at North Star,” according to the proposed management plan update by members of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Program. “Once parking is limited to designated spots and enforcement is in place, users will need to adjust how they access North Star and where they access the river.”

Such adjustments could include bike shuttles, carpooling, using permitted commercial operators as a shuttle service, and shifting launch and takeout plans from the standard Wildwood and Stillwater access points to such less-used spots as Southgate and the North Lot, according to the plan.

North Star Nature Preserve is a 259-acre site located on the eastern outskirts of Aspen that includes pristine wildlife habitat and the only flat section of the Roaring Fork River. Owned and managed by the Pitkin County Open Space Program, most of the preserve is closed to the public to allow elk, moose and other land and aquatic animals unfettered use. The preserve’s main recreational use is as a popular site for summer float trips down the river.

Besides the issues with parking and crowds, public comments received last fall and information from Open Space rangers indicate the three biggest current problems at North Star include use of amplified music, river users beaching watercraft along the float route, and people bringing dogs to the preserve, according to the proposed plan.

Dogs are not allowed within the preserve, while river users are not allowed to land watercraft on beaches or gravel bars except at designated access corridors. Anchoring, including for fishing, also is not allowed. Audible music is prohibited, as well.

“Because of the important resource values of the preserve, a zero-tolerance policy for violating the ‘no audible music’ and ‘no dogs on land except on leash on East of Aspen Trail’ will be enforced,” according to the proposed update. “‘Beaching of watercraft’ outside of the designated areas will result in a written warning prior to receiving a ticket.”

But parking and crowding, mainly at Stillwater, were the focus of many complaints last summer from both users and residents of the narrow corridor. In fact, 89% of respondents to a North Star survey in October felt the Stillwater takeout was sometimes or usually overcrowded, the update states.

And while there are often up to 40 vehicles parked alongside Highway 82 at the takeout during peak use times, Stillwater features no officially designated parking spots. A redesign of the takeout would re-jigger the loading zone and staging area at Stillwater, but no future parking is envisioned.

“The redesign will still have no designated parking, but will organize the loading zone and staging areas,” according to the proposed master plan update.

To ensure river users don’t continue to park illegally at Stillwater — which has contributed to safety concerns amid a reported “party atmosphere” — the county would turn to the Colorado Department of Transportation, which owns the right of way along the highway.

“Staff from CDOT said they are willing to work with the county to install ‘no parking’ signage along Highway 82 at the takeout,” according to proposed plan. “Other ideas CDOT would potentially be open to included jersey barriers to limit areas of parking.”

Parking would instead occur at the North Lot, about 0.3 miles from the takeout, which would accommodate up to 12 cars instead of the current six, according to the plan.

The Wildwood put-in, which is used by most river users, wasn’t rated as overcrowded at the takeout, though it also encounters significant crowding problems, according to the draft plan. The area currently has five parking spaces, though users often double and triple park in those spaces so that 10 to 14 cars are often parked there.

The master plan update proposes a minimal redesign that would “facilitate a pull-through unloading area and help alleviate the congestion impacts created by users backing into Wildwood Lane,” the plan states. It would also completely eliminate the extra space now used to accommodate those extra five to seven cars, according to a schematic of the proposed changes.

“The purpose of this redesign is not to expand the available parking, but to facilitate improved functioning within the current space,” according to the proposed update. “This means redesigning the loading area to be pull-through and limiting the area for parking to five spaces.”

Finally, the update reiterates that commercial operators may not bring groups larger than six people, while special-use permit groups cannot have more than 10 people. Specifically prohibited activities at North Star include weddings, concerts and catered events.

The Open Space and Trails Board will comment on the proposed master plan update at a meeting beginning at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Pitkin County commissioners meeting room at the Pitkin County Building on Main Street. Any changes recommended by board members will be incorporated into the update, which will then be available for public comment for two months.

Commissioners will address and approve the plan after that.

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