North Star plan updates, tightens rules for popular section of Roaring Fork River east of Aspen |

North Star plan updates, tightens rules for popular section of Roaring Fork River east of Aspen

Kurt Kalinna prepares to paddle up the Northstar Nature Preserve in Aspen on Wednesday, June 10, 2020.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Pitkin County commissioners unanimously approved Wednesday a new management plan for the North Star Nature Preserve that updates and tightens the rules for the popular float area east of Aspen.

“It’s a wonderful sanctuary,” Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury said of North Star. “It’s nice to have one place in Aspen where you can find peace and not parties.”

Much of the controversy surrounding the booming popularity of boating and paddleboarding the preserve relates to parking, which appears to be improving thanks to new signs provided by the Colorado Department of Transportation directing where people can and cannot park.

However, other changes will include making most of the float a quiet zone — previously the quiet zone was only around an area where herons lived — the installation of a portable bathroom at the Wildwood put-in and increased enforcement that already includes issuing tickets to violators.

“We are ticketing and we will be ticketing,” said Gary Tennenbaum, director of the county’s Open Space and Trails program, though he added that rangers will educate people on the rules first.

The future of North Star is also likely to see changes.

Commissioners and Open Space officials eventually want to establish a permit system for boaters and paddleboarders, encourage a local shuttle service to cut down on vehicle traffic and limit the number of available parking spaces.

“We are trying to reduce the overall number of people driving up there,” Tennenbaum said. “We don’t want to accommodate future growth.”

Commissioners agreed with those sentiments.

“The solution might lie in having a good shuttle service … so we don’t have to deal with so many cars,” board Chairman Steve Child said.

The county has deployed sandwich boards to direct people where they can and cannot park, and Tennenbaum said the signs appear to be working. During a recent mid-week trip to the preserve, he said he didn’t see a single car parked at the takeout.

“It was great to see,” he said.

Members of the public, who had a chance to comment on the new management plan Wednesday, generally were happy with the county’s efforts to correct problems involving parking and noise. Five people called into Wednesday’s virtual county commission meeting to comment.

“All of us appreciate and value the magical experience you can have out on North Star,” said Morgan Boyles, who noted that more than 8,000 people floated the preserve last year. “There’s a lot of use and I want to thank you for your efforts to address the issues.”

Commissioner Greg Poschman specifically thanked the Boyles family, which owns property downriver from the Wildwood put-in, for their tolerance over the years. The riverfront location of the family’s property means it has been “on the front lines” of dealing with the preserve’s skyrocketing popularity in the past five years and “probably carried the heaviest burden” in terms of dealing with the impacts, he said.

“I want to acknowledge their generosity,” Poschman said.

A lawyer for Ed and Sasha Bass, who own property in the North Star area, also praised Open Space officials and Commissioner Patti Clapper for reaching out to nearby homeowners and incorporating public input into the new plan.

Linda Davis, an Aspen resident, said she was concerned about crowds of specifically young people at the Stillwater takeout blocking the East of Aspen Trail.

“It’s very difficult to make my way through there,” she said.

Besides parking, two of the biggest complaints about North Star involve dogs and amplified music, neither of which is allowed and could result in a ticket. Dogs, however, are allowed to be on paddleboards and boats as long as they are not allowed off until the takeout.

Another activity that could prompt a ticket is beaching a board or boat and going on shore, Tennenbaum said. Some of the land along the riverbank is private property, while the rest is public land that is closed to protect wildlife and wildlife habitat.

It is legal, though, to pull to the side of the river in an eddy and enjoy the beautiful scenery, Tennenbaum said.

“You can stop and definitely hang out,” he said. “But you have to stay on your paddleboard and stay in the river.”

As for the bathroom at Wildwood, Tennenbaum said Wednesday he didn’t know if it would be installed this season or next. The county will need to work with the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the put-in property, on the specifics of the installation, he said.