Pitkin County approves North Star management plan | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County approves North Star management plan

Jill Beathard
The Aspen Times
A group of young people float down the Roaring Fork River at the North Star Nature Preserve last summer.
Aspen Times file photo |

Pitkin County commissioners approved a management plan Wednesday that calls for greater regulation of recreation in the North Star Nature Preserve.

While approval of the management plan doesn’t mean new rules will take effect immediately, county staff members will be working with the U.S. Forest Service on ways to mitigate parking pressure at put-in sites in the preserve, which encases a flat stretch of the Roaring Fork River popular for floating.

The plan also gives staff members a “toolbox” for ways of addressing other forms of recreational pressure, said Gary Tennenbaum, assistant director of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails. Commissioners favored a ban on alcohol, noise regulations and limiting the number of users as possible solutions in the plan.

The goal of the management plan is to prioritize the preserve aspect of the space over recreation, Tennenbaum said. Commissioner George Newman praised the changes county staff members made to the management plan after the first reading July 22.

“They’ve really addressed some of the issues that have come up in the last 15 years, specifically the new and increased recreational use and to ensure that this area remains sustainable as a nature preserve,” he said.

An overabundance of use on Fourth of July weekend as well as the ticketing of an event company for organizing a commercial float trip through the preserve, have recently brought to light some of the problems the county wishes to correct. A group called Friends of the North Star Nature Preserve provided a video Wednesday highlighting the importance of the riparian habitat for various species and the problems occurring as recreational use becomes more popular, including litter, noise and other impacts.

“That video shows an absurd number of people with an absurd number of crafts,” said Jim Ward, a neighbor to the parcel. Ward suggested the commissioners consider restricting the types of crafts that are allowed on the river, as many other river recreation areas do.

Commissioner Patti Clapper said she received a letter from a local father reminiscing about times spent floating with his young children and said she would like to “preserve some sort of the word ‘fun’” in the management plan while still balancing the need for respect for wildlife habitat.

A popular put-in for floaters is near the Wildwood School on U.S. Forest Service land. Tina Person, assistant director at the school, told commissioners that vehicles parked at the put-in have blocked in buses and that some “partiers” have “verbally accosted” families.

“It’s really hard when you’re with a group of 4-year-olds that you feel are being more respectful than some of the adults that go down that river,” said Becky Helmus, director of the Wildwood School.

The county will work with the Forest Service on management of the put-in and with the Colorado Department of Transportation on parking issues at other put-in sites off Highway 82, said Commissioner Rachel Richards. She added that the county could consider posting rangers at the site during the peak months of activity but can start by updating signs and doing educational outreach.

“There’s no question that everyone in the community has a link or a passion or a concern about the wildlife habitat and the river,” Richards said.

Starting with the parking issue will help reduce the number of users, which should help address some of the concerns, Tennenbaum said.