PitCo, Forest Service ponder future of Castle Creek Valley
Aspen-area residents want to preserve the qualities that make Castle Creek Valley unique while preventing it from getting overrun by industrial recreation like its twin to the west, Maroon Creek Valley.
In a meeting hosted by Pitkin County and the U.S. Forest Service at the welcome lodge at Ashcroft Ski Touring on Wednesday afternoon, about 50 people shared thoughts about what makes Castle Creek Valley special, whether current uses are sustainable and what they would like to see in the future.
It’s the first step in a process the county will use for a land-use master plan and the Forest Service will use for management.
The Forest Service holds about 91 percent of the land in the drainage and only 9 percent is private, so the residential development potential is limited. However, the valley is a mecca for cyclists, dirt bikers, peak-baggers, backpackers, anglers, skiers, leaf-peppers and just about every other kind of forest visitor.
Data shows that visits in some popular areas exceed what the Forest Service considers a quality experience, according to Todd Parker of the agency.
In the Conundrum Creek Valley, which splits off of Castle Creek, a hiker could expect to encounter 27 groups on the average day, according to the Forest Service records. The forest management plan goal is for average daily use of 20 groups. The Conundrum Hot Springs are an immensely popular attraction.
The popular Cathedral Lake hike attracts about 16 groups per day, but at times vehicles are spilling out of the parking lot and onto the county road.
Cindy Houben, county planning director, said the department and Forest Service will collect opinions for the next year on all types of issues affecting Castle Creek Valley. As an example, they want to hear opinions on whether there is too much motorized use, if zoning changes are needed, if trailheads and other “nodes” along the county road are adequate and a variety of other issues.
The 50 people who attended the meeting were a mix of Castle Creek Valley residents and representatives of environmental groups that are stakeholders in what happens in the valley.
There was a universal concern that too many people will be drawn to the valley with time.
“Somehow it feels like a secret. Keep it feeling that way,” said one man, who didn’t identify himself in the informal setting.
Another speaker said Castle Creek Valley has a “Wild West feel,” which is a double-edged sword. There is less private land, so fewer conflicts, he said, and there is less government structure and oversight like in Maroon Creek Valley. It’s more relaxed, but also it lends itself to huge keggers at the end of the paved road.
Some speakers made specific recommendations on how the county and Forest Service can preserve the valley. Aspen resident Graeme Means advised minimal maintenance of Pearl Pass Road, a rugged four-wheel-drive route at the headwaters of the valley. Other speakers want greater enforcement of existing rules, such as snowmobile restrictions around the Fred Braun System huts.
Aspen Center for Environmental Studies CEO Chris Lane had a simple suggestion for helping preserve character. “It would be a real shame if we ever got cellphone service up here,” he said. “If you want some place special, you make it different.”
Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Karen Schroyer brought to light two opposing comments that show considerable thought needs to be put into the future of the valley. One person suggested to her that shuttle service should be increased to reduce private vehicles. Another person advised the Forest Service to avoid shuttle service so the valley could avoid the commercial feel that plagues Maroon Creek Valley.
People will get plenty of chances to weigh in. Houben said the county will hold a public meeting in Aspen in the summer. An online forum also will be started at http://www.pitkincountyconnect.com.
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