Plan for Sky Mountain Park hits bump | AspenTimes.com

Plan for Sky Mountain Park hits bump

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – Reconsideration of a dog ban on many of the open space parcels that make up Sky Mountain Park appears unlikely, though Snowmass Village Town Council members declined to support the prohibition this week.

Monday’s turn of events – the Snowmass council voted 2-1 to support a management plan for the park except for the dog ban and a provision allowing limited hunting – apparently took Pitkin County officials by surprise. Two county commissioners on Wednesday took issue with what transpired in Snowmass Village, where some residents said they felt “duped” by the dog ban after town voters agreed to put $2 million toward the purchase for the former Droste property, a key piece of the park.

“I was taken aback a little bit by some of the comments,” Commissioner George Newman said at the start of the commissioners’ regular meeting Wednesday. “I would encourage citizens who supported the purchase to let elected officials know you support the management plan and the dog ban.”

“It was rather disturbing – the tone of what occurred,” added Commissioner Jack Hatfield, a Snowmass Village resident.

A wintertime closure on the Droste land, as well as adjacent open space, went into effect shortly after the purchase at the end of 2010, and the dog ban was put in place through an interim management plan. The final management plan now under consideration also incorporates the dog prohibition, supported by the conclusions of a wildlife study in the park.

The goal of protecting wildlife habitat on the Droste parcel was made clear in discussions leading up to the property’s purchase, both Newman and Hatfield noted.

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“I am quite offended by anyone’s accusations…any inference that the Board of County Commissioners or our staff ever misrepresented what was going on,” Hatfield said.

He also took exception to the suggestion that a referendum petition would be circulated proposing that the town somehow back out of participation in the Droste purchase. That action can’t be addressed via a referendum, Hatfield pointed out.

“I’m sure the commissioners are not happy with us right now. I’m not happy with us right now,” said Snowmass Councilman John Wilkinson on Thursday. He voted in the minority Monday night.

“I voted against a plan I was in favor of, but I was against any kind of amendment that would allow dogs,” he said.

Opposition to the dog ban is centered on two areas – the former Droste property and adjacent open space, where the popular Skyline View Trail is a park highlight, and Upper North Mesa, a Snowmass Village open space parcel on the opposite side of the Brush Creek Valley. Rim Trail North on Upper North Mesa was always supposed to be off-limits to dogs, but the restriction was never enforced until spring 2011, when a wildlife study for the greater park was about to begin. The dog ban on Upper North Mesa remains in place in the proposed Sky Mountain Park Master Plan, which already has been adopted by the open space boards in Aspen and Pitkin County.

“The debate, the discussion and the whining in Snowmass Village relates to North Mesa,” Hatfield said, calling what happens on that property a separate issue from the ban on Droste and the open space that surrounds it.

But Snowmass Councilman Fred Kucker questioned the dog ban on the former Droste parcel, while Councilman Jason Haber questioned the need for limited hunting on the Droste land – an approach recommended by state wildlife officials to thin the herd of elk that move through the area.

Snowmass Town Manager Russ Forrest suggested a discussion between town and county staffers as a next step, and Hunt Walker, the town’s public works director, said he expects that meeting to take place next week.

In the meantime, the management plan is scheduled to get another look by county commissioners on June 12, though typically, the county Open Space and Trails board of trustees is tasked with adopting such documents.

“Because of the importance of this one to the community, we want to run it by the county commissioners for ratification,” said Dale Will, county Open Space and Trails director.

Wilkinson anticipates that the management plan will be taken up again by the Snowmass Town Council in June, ideally when all five members are present.

Will said he’s proud of the amount of public comment that went into the master plan for Sky Mountain Park, a document that details new trail connections, parking opportunities, habitat restoration, noxious weed eradication, the dog prohibition, a continued wintertime closure covering most of the property and limited hunting access. The goal was to treat all of the open space parcels, whether they were acquired by the county, Snowmass Village or city of Aspen – or all three entities working together – as one piece of open space.

“The reason the dog issue is problematic is we designed a trail menu based on the supposition that we wouldn’t have dogs on the interior of the property,” Will said.

If Snowmass Village manages its own pieces of the park differently, planned trail connections may be scrapped to prevent a person walking with their dog from crossing into an area where their pet is not permitted.

“We’re not sure we want to have those connector trails because it we’ll just have an enforcement nightmare,” Will said.

janet@aspentimes.com