Plan for Aspen’s North Star preserve open for public scrutiny |

Plan for Aspen’s North Star preserve open for public scrutiny

Staff report
The Roaring Fork River winds through the 245 North Star Nature Preserve east of Aspen. A new management plan proposal is open for public comment.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |


The public can go to (click on North Star Management Plan) to view the draft plan and provide feedback. Comments will be accepted through June 5.

A draft-management plan for North Star Natural Preserve on Aspen’s eastern edge is open for public scrutiny and comment over the next five weeks.

The Pitkin County commissioners and the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board of Trustees both have given an initial nod to the plan. Now it is time for the public to weigh in again. Visitors to the property were surveyed last year while the plan was being prepared.

The proposal addresses public access and recreational use while emphasizing the property’s value as a nature preserve. North Star and the adjoining James H. Smith North Star Open Space comprise about 245 acres of undeveloped land where the Roaring Fork River winds through wetlands and meadows. The site is ecologically rich and provides excellent conditions for wildlife habitat.

North Star was acquired by Pitkin County in 1977, long before formation of the county’s Open Space and Trails program. The City of Aspen and Pitkin County purchased the adjacent James H. Smith property in 2001. The bulk of both parcels is off-limits to general-public use, allowing it to function as a nature preserve. The river itself has seen a dramatic rise in recreational use in recent years by people floating down the placid stretch. It’s become particularly popular with paddle boarders. In winter, North Star is groomed for Nordic skiing between Highway 82 and the river.

The updated management plan proposes measures to better manage parking and access by the public. The part of the property between the river and the steep slope to the south will continue to be restricted. Most boaters launch from an upstream property that is part of the national forest. Open Space and Trails proposes working with the Forest Service to better manage that property. The plan also proposes working with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies to educate river users on the property’s unique ecological features.

An on-land heron closure that is in place part of the year would be expanded to a permanent closure, but the plan also allows for expansion of Nordic grooming onto a loop trail.

The draft plan would allow more commercial operators at North Star, but clamp down on group size among commercial river users. The existing limits on public and commercial paraglider landings at North Star would remain unchanged.

On the opposite side of the river from Highway 82, the plan proposes possible steps to allow the river to more easily access its floodplain. Also proposed is stabilization of stream banks and other measures intended to counteract the effects of transmountain water diversions that, along with ranching, have altered the historic function of the property.

“Our ultimate goal is achieving a balance between public use of the property and its primary function as one of only two nature preserves within the county’s open space program,” said Gary Tennebaum, assistant director of the open space program.

The plan is an update to both a 2000 management plan for North Star and 2001 interim plan for the James H. Smith North Star Open Space.

The Open Space and Trails program will host an open house on the draft plan May 18 from 5 to 7 p.m. in the county’s Plaza One meeting room at 530 E. Main St.