Pitkin County mulls forest officer proposal
The parking situation at the North Star Nature Preserve was so bad last summer, Pitkin County officials are considering hiring a dedicated enforcement officer to patrol it.
The so-called forest protection officer would technically be an employee of the U.S. Forest Service, though the position would likely be paid for by a yet to be determined combination of the county, the city of Aspen, the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and private landowners, said Gary Tennenbaum, assistant director of the county’s open space program.
“The problem is the Forest Service doesn’t have the capability to hire people to take care of these areas,” Tennenbaum said. “They’re looking for all the help they can get.”
He and other staff are still in the process of coming up with an estimate of how much such a position would cost. They also are trying to determine if a forest protection officer could enforce both federal Forest Service regulations and county open space rules, Tennenbaum said.
In addition to policing the Wildwood put-in at North Star, Tennenbaum told Pitkin County commissioners the officer also could conduct patrols in the Hunter Creek-Smuggler area and up the Castle Creek Valley. In those areas, the forest protection officer can enforce all Forest Service regulations concerning things such as illegal camping, illegal outfitters or dogs roaming off-leash, Tennenbaum said Friday.
“So much stuff happens you don’t know,” he said. “If someone is out patrolling, you can protect your resource.”
The idea of the forest protection officer grew out of the problems, especially last summer, with overcrowded parking at the Wildwood put-in at North Star east of Aspen. Issues included vehicles blocking entrance to the Wildwood School, blocking fire lanes and parking along the road and Highway 82.
The problem is that while the open space and trails program owns most of the North Star Nature Preserve, it does not own the put-in area. That belongs to the Forest Service, which has no money to regularly patrol Wildwood because of budget cuts.
The county has been in talks with the Forest Service to take over management and enforcement at Wildwood. County officials initially thought they could make open space and trails rangers the area’s enforcers by simply adding them to an already-existing agreement between the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and the Forest Service, the memo states.
Rangers are not peace officers, however, so that couldn’t happen, according to the memo. That’s when the idea of the forest protection officer came up.
“It’s hard when you don’t have someone who is able to take the next step (of writing a ticket),” Tennenbaum said Friday. “We want enforcement.”
On March 1, Open Space and Trails Ranger John Armstrong told commissioners that such an officer has patrolled the Hanging Lake area near Glenwood Springs for the past few years and has been paid by Garfield County and Glenwood Springs. The officer would have to go through “forest training courses,” Tennenbaum told commissioners.
Meanwhile, Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo has agreed to help patrol the Wildwood area this summer and deal with parking issues and people walking along Highway 82, especially during the Fourth of July, according to Tennenbaum’s memo.
DiSalvo said last week that while he agreed to do that, his deputies won’t be there as strict enforcers.
“We agreed that it wasn’t going to be punitive,” he said. “We’re not going to be giving out tickets for parking.”
While the agreement between the Sheriff’s Office and the Forest Service will specifically include Wildwood, that hasn’t happened yet. Tennenbaum said Friday he is still working on that.
DiSalvo said that agreement currently allows his deputies to do campground patrols in the county during the summer, which occurs every evening. However, the same parameters apply, he said. Deputies do not enforce Forest Service regulations, though they will, of course, deal with any criminal violations they might encounter, he said.
“Dogs off leash, illegal camping — these are civil violations,” DiSalvo said. “Criminal violations — that’s where I get involved.”
Tennenbaum said he plans to present more information about the forest protection officer proposal Thursday at the regular Open Space and Trails Board meeting.
“We’re gonna make (the forest protection officer position) happen,” he said. “It’s just figuring out how to get the funding for it.”
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