North Star boaters urged to start at Southgate |

North Star boaters urged to start at Southgate

Paddle boarders take advantage of the nice weather at the Northstar Preserve on Friday.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times

With the North Star Nature Preserve flooded and space dwindling under bridges, county open space officials are asking boaters to put in at the popular float spot’s midway point until further notice.

“We’re encouraging everybody across the board … to put in at Southgate,” Pryce Hadley, ranger supervisor for the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program, said Monday. “The water is high for July and people need to be careful.”

The North Star Nature Preserve east of Aspen is the only flat-water section of the Roaring Fork River. It is owned by the open space program and a popular spot for stand-up paddle boarders, kayakers and other boaters looking for a mellow float experience.

However, with the enduring snowpack feeding runoff and diversions to the Front Range from Grizzly Reservoir on Independence Pass halted for the time being, the Roaring Fork is running high, said Hadley and Pitkin County Emergency Manager Valerie MacDonald.

The lack of Front Range diversions adds about 550 cubic feet per second to the Roaring Fork River, they said. That water began flowing down the Roaring Fork on Thursday evening, and the river peaked at just over 1,000 cfs July 6, Hadley said. It was running at 779 cfs Monday morning, he said.

“That’s still well above the 300 cfs we had midday on July 4,” Hadley said.

And that means boaters who begin at the normal North Star put-in at Wildwood are not going to be able to make it under a pedestrian bridge and a car bridge at McFarland Gulch, he said. While some stand-up paddlers might be able to make it under the bridges lying on their bellies face down, most likely cannot, Hadley said.

Portage is not possible either, he said, because the bridges and surrounding land are on private property, he said.

Southgate is located roughly at the halfway point of North Star and is marked by the multicolored flag for paraglider landings visible from Highway 82 and the river.

Starting at Southgate isn’t necessarily a bad thing when North Star is flooded, Hadley said. That’s because the extra water has created numerous pools and eddies outside the river’s regular channel that easily be explored on a SUP or kayak, creating a longer float.

“It almost looks like mangroves out there right now,” Hadley said. “It’s a cool time to explore but remember the water is very cold.”

He emphasized that boaters should not get out of boats or off boards when exploring the newly flooded area or the river channel, and should be respectful of wildlife habitat and wildlife in general, including moose, he said.

“With the backchannels … the flooding area has become like a lake,” Hadley said. “You can be paddling a lot more than the channel.”

Both Hadley and MacDonald said the runoff appears to be subsiding and the river level is heading down.

MacDonald said the decreased runoff happened just when the Grizzly Reservoir diversions began flowing down the Roaring Fork. At the same time, Ruedi Reservoir officials decreased the flow down the Fryingpan River, which empties into the Roaring Fork, by 200 cfs, she said.

Because of those developments, “we didn’t have the flooding we could have” after the diversions to the Front Range stopped, MacDonald said.

It is not yet clear how long the water from Grizzly will continue to flow down the Roaring Fork, MacDonald said.

An official with the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which owns Grizzly, was not available for comment Monday afternoon.