North Star put-in improved, but takeout ‘dangerous’ |

North Star put-in improved, but takeout ‘dangerous’

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times
Boaters float through the Northstar Preserve Thursday evening.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

While the parking situation at the put-in for float trips through the North Star Nature Preserve is vastly improved over past year, the takeout has become more dangerous, an official said Thursday.

“Boy, it’s scary there,” John Armstrong, a ranger with the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program, said of the takeout. “People continue to be unsafe and unaware of the risk down there.”

The takeout, sometimes referred to as “Stillwater,” is located just west of a blind curve on Highway 82 and doesn’t have much parking, so cars and people are frequently clustered close to and sometimes actually on the state highway, Armstrong said. The situation is especially busy on weekends.

“It’s very dangerous,” he said. “It’s a thorn in our side.”

Open space officials prefer referring to the takeout as the North Star Pedestrian Bridge, he said.

Gary Tennenbaum, assistant director of the county open space program, said he and others are working with officials from the Colorado Department of Transportation to come up with parking solutions for the takeout area.

“It is still a little chaotic at the takeout,” Tennenbaum said. “People really like to hang out there.”

However, by nearly all accounts, the Wildwood put-in is much improved over last year, when cars were often parked illegally and haphazardly.

Becky Helmus, director of the Wildwood School located near the put-in, said school officials sometimes could not navigate the bus out of the Wildwood area last year, and that boaters were “not so nice sometimes, too.”

“It was pretty much a nightmare,” Helmus said.

This year, however, Helmus hasn’t called sheriff’s deputies once to deal with boater or parking-related issues.

“It seems to really be working,” she said. “We’re really thrilled.”

The difference has been a public education campaign by the open space program that includes the presence of a forest protection officer working for the U.S. Forest Service, increased open space ranger presence and having two naturalists from the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies on site, Tennenbaum and Armstrong said.

“I think we’re slowly changing attitudes,” Tennenbaum said. “The Wildwood area has definitely seen significant improvement.”

Kelly Wood, the forest protection officer, said boaters appear to understand the situation by dropping off their boating parties and shuttling the car to the takeout.

“I think it’s going great,” Wood said. “People have it down.”

Armstrong said he believes the threat of a $125 ticket for illegal parking is helping make the difference.

Officials also have been encouraging people to park at the Southgate put-in/takeout, which makes for a shorter float. However, people using innertubes have found the shorter distance beneficial because they don’t have to sit in the cold, slow-moving water as long, Armstrong said. In addition, paddleboarders can go up and down the river, so Southgate makes sense for them, too, he said.

Otherwise, the bike ride from the takeout to the Wildwood put-in is only about 10 minutes for people who shuttle a car, Armstrong said.

A party atmosphere last year also caused problems. People are allowed to drink alcohol on the river and would often yell and scream and discard litter. Armstrong said that continues to be a problem, with beer cans in the river and some noise.

“We’re seeing less of it, but more of it than we’d like,” he said. “This is not a bar in Aspen. This is a nature preserve.”

Helmus said she often saw litter and heard partying while hiking with young children in the Wildwood School area last year. This year has been much better, she said.

“It’s calmed down,” Helmus said.

Armstrong and Wood pointed out that hundreds of people continue to enjoy the only flat-water float on the upper Roaring Fork River, especially during recent hot afternoons.

“Ninety-five percent of people are great,” Wood said.

The North Star Nature Preserve is located just east of Aspen.