Pitkin County open space gets earful about trails from wildlife advocates | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County open space gets earful about trails from wildlife advocates

Equestrians are concerned about access to public lands, including those held by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails. This view is from horseback on the Crown, looking across the valley to Basalt Mountain.
Holly McLain/courtesy photo |

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Following is a sample of comments submitted to Pitkin County Open Space and Trails over its draft policy on biodiversity and human use of the lands it has acquired. The comments can be found in full at http://www.pitkinostprojects.com/draft-policy-habitat-preservation-and-human-use.html, then downloading the public comment folder.

Chelsea Brundige: “This policy is a critical and overdue step in the right direction. My experience is that Pitkin County advocates for a trail through everything….”

Liesel Hadfield: “Seasonal closures for wildlife nesting/breeding are preferred if the other option is losing our wildlife abundance or trail closures.”

Jonathan Delk: “As an outdoor enthusiast and avid cyclist I find our parks and open space to be in need of greater vision.”

Karin Reid-Offield: “Wildlife are not bothered by horse activity.”

Linda Hayes: “Keep the land for hiking with llamas and riding horses.”

Gerald Terwilliger: “Please consider wildlife and habitat first. We humans have run roughshod over too much terrain. Mountain bikes are especially egregious, cutting illegal trails and going where they shouldn’t be. It’s all about them and I don’t think they even enjoy the wilderness but only the exercise and challenge.”

Marj Perry: “Recreation fuels the valley’s economy and recreationists vote. Wildlife and habitat have no vote. Decisions should be based on science, not votes.”

Michael Kinsley: “The proposed new policy is essential for responsible management of public lands in this valley. Certainly, there are public parcels that are appropriate for relatively intensive human use. Others are so fragile or rare that only lightest human touch should be allowed.”

Wildlife advocates are imploring Pitkin County Open Space and Trails to manage its properties more for the benefit of critters.

Numerous residents who submitted written comments to the open space program on its draft land management plan also criticized the level of trail building on public lands. A handful unloaded their scorn for mountain biking.

Forty-seven individuals or representatives of organizations submitted comments on the draft policy on “Protection of Natural Biodiversity and Compatible Human Use.” The comment period was extended once because of the level of interest and was closed July 15. The open space program’s board of trustees is scheduled to discuss the policy at its Aug. 4 meeting. The comments were posted on the open space program’s website.

Evolving into election issue

The debate over land-management practices is carrying added weight this year because Pitkin County is contemplating asking voters in November to extend funding for the program for an additional 20 years. The current 3.75 mill levy is scheduled to expire in 2020.

While the program has been immensely popular at the polls since it was started in 1990, criticism over trail building has surfaced more recently. County commissioner candidate Greg Poschman has made it an issue in his campaign.

Tom Cardamone, who served on the first board of trustees of the open space program, submitted comments with his wife, Jody, warning that concerns over trails need to be addressed.

“Effectively addressing the mounting concern about imbalance of priorities within the program will be critical to reauthorization,” the Cardamones wrote. “And we would caution against counting votes and determining that recreation advocates outnumber wildlife advocates. Most citizens value recreation and wildlife and neither interest should be dismissed because of extreme views of the few.”

Several commenters said they appreciated that the open space program was reaching out to the public to find the balance between use and protection of its land.

Others were more critical of open space program practices. Holly McLain, an outspoken critic of the open space program, said the “bike lobby” has gained too much influence.

“Sky Mountain and the Crown are now amusement parks and quite dangerous for pedestrians and equestrians,” McLain wrote in one of three comments she submitted. “The bike lobby has taken complete control of BLM, open space and have built illegal trails on every possible undeveloped land mass in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties.

“If you want this area to be like Disney World, and your only thought is money generated from bike visitors and trails paid for by the bike lobby, then you will change the only peaceful areas left in our valley for everyone to enjoy,” McLain added.

She softened her stance somewhat in another comment, where she said many cyclists are educated and respectful of other trail users but some lack trail etiquette.

Equestrians aren’t feeling the love

Special-interest groups made sure their voices were heard. At least five people submitted comments with concerns over allowing access into Arbaney Gulch off of recently purchased open space property along Lower River Road. Linda Waag wrote that she is concerned about opening access to the “heaven for wildlife.”

“It is imperative that wildlife be protected by the venture of Open Space and Trails!” Waag said. “People are invading precious habitat and bringing a huge amount of human traffic into delicate wildlife refuge areas that were heretofore unable to be threatened by human intervention because of non access.”

Equestrians who feel trail access is decreasing for them while increasing for cyclists also submitted a handful of comments.

“Please keep places available for horseback riding — not just the bike crowd. I do both but it seems like the bike crowd is asking for too much in the places where animals are,” Gail Otte wrote.

A number of commenters urged the open space program to continue its policy of consulting with wildlife experts to form its management practices.

Julie Kolar wrote “solid science should be the determining factor in any wildlife habitat discussion and ensuing rules placed on specific properties or trails.”

That was the position taken by Mark Pritchard, director of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association. The organization supports the draft policy due to its “reliance on best available science to ensure that Open Space planning decisions are not based on the emotions and potential biases of the loudest voices in the room.”

Other than Pritchard, the mountain-biking community was sparsely represented.

Former wildlife officer weighs in

Kevin Wright, a longtime district wildlife officer in Aspen and Carbondale, now retired, wrote about his concern over enforcement of trail and land closures. He asked if the open space program has the funding for patrol to enforce the closures.

Wright also wrote that he feels recreation and the needs of wildlife are out of balance.

“Right now, in my opinion, there is no balance and the valley has become recreation at all costs. I am not alone in that thought. The decline in deer and elk numbers and reproductive success is very well documented.

“As I have asked in the past: When is enough enough? When will there be enough trails?” Wright said.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife submitted comments that said Pitkin County’s draft policy was a step in the right direction. However, instead of looking at management practices on individual pieces of property, it must look at the bigger picture needs of wildlife, wrote area wildlife manager Perry Will.

A consortium of environmental nonprofits led by Wilderness Workshop submitted comments that generally complimented the open space policy and sought additions. Among their recommendations was performing a human carrying capacity for each open space parcel and then sticking to it for the benefit of wildlife.

The consortium also called for an analysis of the county’s recreational needs before any additional trails are built.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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