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North Star gets a rest in June

Allyn Harvey

For at least one month each year, the North Star Preserve at the east end of town is going to the birds – literally.

The Pitkin County commissioners agreed yesterday to close the popular 175-acre preserve to all uses except kayaking for the month of June.

Even though the decision isn’t final, the commissioners voted unanimously to accept the recommendation of county wildlife biologist Jonathan Lowsky to eliminate most human activity during the most critical nesting time for many birds that call the preserve home.

“I don’t have a problem with this seasonal closure. I think the fact that it’s only in June is generous,” said County Commissioner Leslie Lamont.

Not everyone in the audience at yesterday’s special meeting of the county commissioners agreed, however. Kayak instructor Kirk Baker pointed out that, in addition to shutting down all access for a summer month, the commissioners were on the verge of limiting access year-round to just about one acre on the entire preserve.

“I think you’re really taking away access to the people of Pitkin County, and I totally disagree with it,” he said. “Biodiversity means people integrating with wildlife and appreciating it.”

The oft-contentious process of developing a management plan for North Star took its first step in several months yesterday, when the commissioners began discussing what kinds of recreational uses will be allowed on the property. Yesterday’s decisions will guide county staff members who are writing the plan, which will come up for further discussion on June 13.

So what did the commissioners decide?

There will be only three access points between the highway and the Roaring Fork River – one at the upstream end of the preserve, one at the downstream end and one at the old ranch gate where the river bank turns sandy. Hiking along the bank of the river and the grassy wetlands that extend back several hundred yards will be banned.

Kayakers will be allowed to load into the river at all three access points. Paragliders and hang gliders will also be allowed to continue using the preserve as place to land. But with both activities, commercial operators will need a license from now on.

Fly-fishermen are going to have to monitor their behavior in the future, because the county plans to keep an eye on them.

“The more I hear, the more scared I get. What I’m worried about is North Star becoming the next `discovered’ spot,” said County Commissioner Mick Ireland.

More than one local fishing guide assured the commissioners that the shallow and slow-moving water of the upper Roaring Fork was of only limited appeal to most anglers. They said it’s a good place for parents to teach their children, and for elderly and handicapped fishermen who might have trouble with swifter currents downstream.

By a 3-1 vote, the commissioners agreed fly-fishing could continue, but they directed their staff to figure out a way to monitor the stream banks for degradation caused by fishermen climbing in and out of the water. Lamont voted against fishing in the preserve.

People who like to picnic weren’t well represented at yesterday’s meeting, as reflected by the decision to limit their activities to the trail that runs next to Highway 82. The commissioners agreed with Lowsky that the wetlands that comprise most of the preserve aren’t appropriate for people to spread out blankets, play their boom boxes and frolic about.

“I’m for protecting wildlife, but we had a presentation this morning that it’s a healthy ecology. I’m wondering if we’re getting to the point of being ridiculous,” said County Commissioner Shellie Roy as the debate over how to regulate picnics dragged on.

The commissioners deadlocked 2-2 on whether to allow big-game hunters to cross the preserve with fresh kill, and whether to ban horseback riding. The issue will be decided at a future meeting when Commissioner Dorothea Farris is present.

The decision to ban most uses in June met little opposition, except from a paraglider who said it would have a big effect on commercial operations. But more than one audience member thought the commissioners hadn’t gone nearly far enough.

“If there is going to be a closure, then close the whole damn thing – including river access to the boaters,” said Aspenite King Woodward.


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