Respect Crystal River preserve’s critical habitat, wildlife |

Respect Crystal River preserve’s critical habitat, wildlife

Dear Editor:

The 2003 Crystal River Master Plan encourages the acquisition of open space and applauds county efforts to protect the diversity of species and habitats within this narrow valley.

This week, the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Department will finalize a draft management plan on the open space they have designated a preserve. The accompanying habitat and wildlife study illuminates the rare orchids, rushes, fireflies, bats, shrublands and wetlands. These, together with the elk and bighorn sheep production and winter concentrations, justify the preserve status and is supported by the 2007 Crystal River Wildlife Report. The OST staff calls Filoha “one of the most biologically diverse properties in the OST program and the unique plant communities and the wildlife that depend on them are unparalleled.”

Residents of the Crystal River Valley within Pitkin County are not opposed to the public access of the nature preserve. The management plan calls for two different kinds of public access to the preserve. This is where the majority of residents and the OST staff differ.

One access point, corridor B, will be along an old road that will be allowed to revegetate and reduced in width to 4 feet. The surface will remain dirt and will allow visitors access to the beaver wetlands, where bird and wildlife viewing and interpretation are possible and access will be limited to guided groups.

The other access point, corridor A, will allow unrestricted summer foot traffic the entire length of the preserve and will be maintained 6 to 8 feet wide as a soft-surface trail of crusher fines. The general concern of valley residents is that this trail would be the precursor to the Crystal River Bike Trail, coming from Avalanche Creek and Redstone to the south, and threaten the preserve with violations of orchids and rare species. My own public comment was that corridor A be maintained as an interpretive path limited to groups guided by staff or trained volunteers, and this is the position of nearly 350 residents who have filed petition with the OST staff and county commissioners.

The OST staff should support their own critical-habitat findings and the Crystal River’s Wildlife Report and treat the preserve with the respect it deserves and not invite progressive urbanization of this unique valley.

William Hanks