Sky Mountain Park management plan ready for ﬁnal scrutiny
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
SNOWMASS VILLAGE – Some 15 miles of new trails and three new trailheads are proposed in the management plan for Sky Mountain Park, a 2,500-acre collection of open space parcels on the edge of Snowmass Village.
The plan, a product of wildlife and habitat study plus public sessions to gather input, begins its final review Monday when the Snowmass Village Town Council is scheduled to take up the document. (Watch for it online at http://www.aspenpitkin.com/openspace.) Other governmental reviews will follow.
The plan details proposed new trail connections, parking opportunities, habitat restoration, noxious weed eradication, dog prohibitions, a continued wintertime closure covering most of the property, limited hunting access and the accommodation of commercial outfitters.
The park has been more than two decades in the making, involving multiple open space acquisitions by Snowmass Village, Aspen and Pitkin County, capped by the December 2010 purchase of the former Droste property for $17 million. That parcel ties the other holdings together and boasts what is arguably the park’s highlight – the ridge-top trail that extends from the edge of Snowmass nearly to Highway 82. It runs the length of a spine that divides the Brush Creek and Owl Creek valleys, extending northeast from Snowmass Village.
The Droste land was closed to use immediately after its purchase to protect winter elk habitat, and the entire park was the subject of an in-depth biological and resource survey that consumed much of 2011 and helped guide the drafting of the master plan.
“To my knowledge, no piece of wildland has ever received such a careful study and comprehensively prepared plan as this 2,500 acres,” county open space director Dale Will told county commissioners last month.
The efforts recently earned the three upvalley governments a Land Stewardship Award from the Colorado chapter of The Wildlife Society.
More than 15 miles of trails already exist within the park, including Skyline Ridge Trail, which debuted last year along with a new connector, Viewline Trail, on the Snowmass Village end, but the planned new trail connections are likely to be of keen public interest.
Land managers have sought a balance between protection of sensitive plants, natural features and wildlife habitat with the public’s desire for additional opportunities for recreation, but the competing interests might see the lion’s share of the debate as the management plan gets scrutiny from elected officials.
“Fifteen miles of new trails bothers me. Nine new trails really bothers me,” Pitkin County Commissioner Jack Hatfield said during an initial discussion on the trail proposals last month. He said he would rely on the input of wildlife managers in making a decision.
The plan calls for the continued winter closure of the bulk of the park, from Dec. 1 to May 15, but leaves the door open for wintertime use of the Brush Creek Trail alongside Brush Creek Road. Open space officials want to keep that paved trail closed for another winter to better gauge wildlife use of the area, according to Gary Tennenbaum, land steward with Pitkin County Open Space and Trails. The trail has been closed each winter since its construction in 2006.
To restore habitat, the plan proposes mechanical cutting of oak and shrubs on 300 acres, encompassing lands on the Droste, Seven Star and Cozy Point South properties, over a five-year period. The restoration of wetland and riparian areas along Brush Creek is also envisioned, as are strategies to deal with 21 species of noxious weeds spread across the park.
The trail plan includes new trailheads off Owl Creek Road, at Cozy Point Ranch and on Hidden Valley Road.
Proposed new trails, the construction of which will be prioritized and then tackled over time, include a loop trail on Cozy Point Ranch and a multiuse trail from Cozy Point Ranch across Brush Creek Road and climbing up to the Skyline Ridge Trail.
A singletrack connection from Buttermilk to Sky Mountain Park along Owl Creek Road also is envisioned, as is a trail connecting the existing Rim Trail to Brush Creek Road and the Brush Creek Trail. A separate route for equestrians to access Skyline Ridge from the Snowmass Village side, using the proposed Hidden Valley trailhead, also is proposed.
The plan also calls for a connector trail between the existing Viewline and Highline trails on the Snowmass side and a new Ditchline Trail, connecting from Viewline to Skyline Ridge via a route along a ditch and old ranch roads. The Ditchline Trail would cut across part of the Brush Creek Valley floor before climbing up the ridge.
The latter trail might prove controversial – desirable from a recreational perspective but troubling from a wildlife perspective – though it would stay on already-disturbed areas.
“In all the public reviews, that trail was pretty important,” Tennenbaum said.
Still up in the air is whether it’s possible to build a trail that crosses airport property and connects to the park’s trail system.
The plan would accommodate potential elk hunting on county-owned open space; it would take place when the park is closed to avoid conflicts with other uses.
Potential commercial equestrian use is permitted on certain trails by the plan, and it allows for the development of guidelines for other commercial uses, such as bike or nature tours.
The Snowmass Village Town Council will be the first body to take up the management plan for Sky Mountain Park. A review by the Aspen Open Space and Trails Board is scheduled April 5 and Pitkin County commissioners are slated to discuss the plan in a joint meeting with the county Open Space and Trails Board on April 10.
Adoption of the plan by the time the park reopens in mid-May is the goal.
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