Pitkin County maps out its recreational assets | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County maps out its recreational assets

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

REDSTONE – With less than a decade left before the tax that funds the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program expires, officials have mapped out every parcel of land, stretch of trail and forgotten fishing easement the county has ever acquired. The goal: identifying the missing links.

The county Open Space and Trails board, holed up in Redstone for an all-day retreat last week, spent hours poring over a thick binder of maps and lists – the Recreation Inventory and Analysis – often referred to as the long-awaited “gap analysis,” as it identifies gaps in the system.

“As far as I know, it’s the first time anyone has tried to assemble all of Pitkin County’s property into a single book and put it all on a map,” said Dale Will, Open Space and Trails director. “There are some surprising things in here.”

Many of the holdings were acquired by the open space program, which marked its 25th anniversary last year, but many others were secured through land-use approvals. Documenting them meant sifting through old plats – a process that, among other things, turned up an unexpected number of fishing easements.

“A mile of Snowmass Creek fishing easements – with public access?” said an incredulous Tim McFlynn, a member of the board. “You can fish Snowmass Creek if you can find a place to park your car. That would be worth some additional research, because nobody knows that.”

Another 1.5 miles or so of the creek is also open to the public, but private property blocks access. The lack of access and a place to park – the gap – is what open space officials hope to rectify with future deals.

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“I looked at some of these things and wondered if the owners actually know this is lurking,” said board member Anne Rickenbaugh.

Before fishing easements are made public, Open Space and Trails staffers intend to make sure landowners are aware there’s a public amenity on their property.

And, at least one fishing easement and one road easement held by the county are currently posted with no-trespassing signs, the board was told. Those landowners will be contacted, as well.

Developing a map of trails and fishing access points is scheduled to start next spring; putting signs in place to identify public easements is scheduled in the fall of 2012. Creating a River Recreation Management Plan for the Roaring Fork and Crystal rivers, which will identify the county’s river assets and needed amenities, is to start in the summer of 2015, though board member Hawk Greenway pushed for quicker action.

“Every place where we say we’ve got it, but we can’t manage it, we’re falling down on the job,” he said.

This winter’s work is to include identifying places where “passive recreation” can be promoted, be it wildlife viewing or picnicking.

“A lot of people like picnicking and birdwatching. Not everyone mountain bikes,” said Lindsey Utter, recreation planner for Open Space and Trails.

In the longer term, projects will include efforts to hook up pieces of trail easements that don’t connect to anything, or have no public access, and bigger projects such as extension of the paved Crystal Trail farther up the Crystal River Valley.

The Open Space and Trails program is currently authorized through 2020, unless voters extend the property tax that funds it. The program’s charter mandates that anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of the revenues go to trails – that’s $8.9 million to $23.6 million over the next nine years, based on projections of assessed property value.

“One of the things we’ve got to get a handle on is how do we prioritize spending that money, whatever that amount turns out to be,” Will said. “If you can only do two more paved commuter trails between now and the end of the program, what two trails would they be? That’s a big-picture thing we’ve never grappled with before.”

A couple of trail projects are already on the program’s agenda for the coming year. Slated for 2012 is the planning work for a dual-surface segment of the Rio Grande Trail – paved and gravel – in the stretch where only a gravel trail currently exists between McLain Flats Road above Woody Creek and Stein Park below Aspen. Construction would occur in 2013.

Completing the East of Aspen Trail, extending it between Wildwood and Difficult Campground, is scheduled next summer, as is filling in the gaps in the soft-surface trail in the Brush Creek Valley.

Planning the extension of the Crystal Trail is scheduled to begin in 2014. A paved trail between the current terminus at the BRB Crystal River Resort and Redstone, and then a soft-surface trail between Redstone and the Pitkin-Gunnison county line is the goal. It would become part of an envisioned Carbondale-to-Crested Butte Trail.

“This is going to tell you how much it costs to build it along the highway versus somewhere else,” Will said of the planning work. The “somewhere else” – opposite the Crystal River from Highway 133 – comes with access challenges. In narrow sections of the valley, so does a trail along the highway.

Other identified gaps in the trail system include a link between Lazy Glen and the Rio Grande Trail, which requires a bridge over the Roaring Fork River, and a better link between the Brush Creek and Rio Grande trails.

As for other trail projects, Will said he wants to seek the input of the public and user groups. Defining what the county owns is one thing; defining what the public wants is another, he said.

“They don’t necessarily have to be tied at the hip,” Will said.

janet@aspentimes.com