Plan for open space at Aspen’s entrance is to leave it largely unchanged |

Plan for open space at Aspen’s entrance is to leave it largely unchanged

Online petition suggests that major changes are coming for the Marolt Open Space; bike park only an idea that hasn’t been flushed out yet

Emily Couture rides her bike through flowery fields of Marolt Open Space in Aspen on Friday, June 25, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

A management plan for Marolt Open Space is largely centered around leaving the 74.5-acre parcel at the entrance to Aspen as it is, which is counter to mounting opposition to the proposed strategy.

When city open space officials presented the plan to Aspen City Council earlier this month, the conversation focused on the possibility of a small bike park on the southwest portion of the parcel, which is not part of the dedicated open space.

Council’s preliminary support incited residents, who may not have read the 77-page draft management plan, to sign onto a petition urging city officials to leave the open space alone.

But the petition is based on the premise that city officials want to change the way the open space is used.

“The petition holders didn’t partake in the public comment and made an assumption that it’s going to be in the Marolt Open Space,” city open space and trails board member Ted Mahon said last week. “If they read the draft management plan and the comments from our friends and neighbors, they’d be at peace with it.”

The plan was drafted after public outreach efforts in person and online, with more than 200 people making comments on the future of the Marolt Open Space.

“The most common theme from the general comments was the desire to leave the Marolt Open Space primarily unchanged,” the draft plan reads. “It is not lost on the public, based on the number of comments, that the Marolt Open Space speaks volumes to the community’s values as reflected by its role in the entrance to Aspen.

“The citizens of Aspen place a high degree of importance on preserving and maintaining natural open spaces such as this property in and around town.”

Therefore, the overall desired outcome is that the open space should remain relatively unchanged.

“In general, there should be no change to the overall look and function of the Marolt Open Space except for minor modifications that do not change the basic character and uses of the property,” according to the plan.

The Marolt Open Space (which is the heart-shaped area to the right of the golf course) is nearly 75 acres and sits at the entrance to Aspen. (Jim Hoddenback/Photo contributed by City of Aspen)

Pedaling for a pocket park

There were dozens of comments made during the public outreach period in 2019 and earlier this year by people who were interested in a new, skills-building bike park for young riders.

Open space officials are eyeing a small sliver of property on the southwest edge of the parcel, which is on what’s known as the Thomas Open Space.

Due to restrictions in land use code associated with the Marolt Open Space parcel, that portion of the property does not lend itself to serving as a site for a bike park, according to the management plan.

The document references exploring the feasibility of developing a small bike park.

Matt Kuhn, the city’s parks and open space director, said the plan merely guides officials on whether to consider a future bike park.

An entirely new community discussion and public outreach effort would occur once a concept is designed.

Poppys blow in the wind in the Marolt Open Space in Aspen on Friday, June 25, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

That would likely be done by the Roaring Fork Mountain Biking Association, which has offered to collaborate with the city’s open space and trails board.

That design and discussion could come in the next year, as determined by the board, according to Kuhn.

He said he recognizes there are conflicting views in the community on the issue.

“There are a lot of people who want a bike park,” Kuhn said, “and equally, folks think it’s a bad idea.”

As an open space and trails board member, Mahon said he and his colleagues have a responsibility to listen to the people who participated in the public commenting period, but that doesn’t mean a bike park is set in stone.

“We are merely having a conversation based on the comments we received,” he said. “This is respecting the comments made and I am all for having a discussion.”

A guide for the future

The plan is an update and guides open space officials on how to manage the parcel and preserve the land for the next 10 years.

That includes maintaining the infrastructure on the property, as well as the native vegetation and trails.

Some of the action items in the plan are innocuous, like replacing the buck rail fence that runs parallel to Highway 82, adding wayfinding signs to help people navigate the property, or developing a commuter path to divert users off undesignated trails.

Another item is to allow dog play in the Marolt pond but not in the wetlands to protect the riparian area in the middle of the property to protect wildlife habitat.

One example of protecting the native vegetation was erecting a fence near the community garden to prevent people from parking in undesignated areas, Kuhn said.

Sheri Sanzone follows her two black labs Bates and Foster through the Marolt Open Space trails in Aspen on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

A sacred place for many

There are several different zones on the parcel that have different uses, Kuhn noted.

“There are a number of ecosystems and management strategies to protect them,” he said. “We want people to meander on the property and it’s our intent to keep the space for multiple users.”

The property hosts a mining and ranching museum, community garden, wildlife habitat, buffer zones between developed and natural areas, Nordic ski trails, a paraglider landing zone, and bike paths that serve as community connectors.

Bordered by Castle Creek Road, Moore Open Space, the roundabout, Highway 82, Power Plant Road and Castle Creek, the Marolt Open Space consists of open grassy meadows, stands of aspen, cottonwood and spruce trees, mountain shrublands, willow and cottonwood riparian ecosystems, and fragments of a sagebrush ecosystem, along with wetlands, irrigation ditches and a reach of Castle Creek, according to the management plan.

In the early 1980s, the city acquired two parcels of land with the intent of making it a passive park that would serve as a hub for the local trail system.

The Thomas parcel was acquired in 1982 and the Marolt property was acquired in 1983. Fifty-seven-and-one-half acres were purchased with open space funds, 6.76 acres were purchased with transportation funds and 10.1 acres were donated by the Marolt family to the city, according to the document.

Kuhn said it’s the intent of the open space and trails department to stay in line with the notion that the property is a visual and physical representation of community values that should be free of development and makes a statement about Aspen’s image to all who travel through it, as stated in the document.

“It will remain relatively unchanged because that is what we heard from the community,” he said.

The open space and trails board on June 17 voted to send the plan back to council for final approval, which could be next month.

Aspen native Steve Marolt, who said last week that he had not read the management plan and his relationship with the property is in namesake only, signed the online petition urging the city to refrain from changing anything about the open space.

“It’s a visual masterpiece,” he said. “You can’t enhance perfection.”

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