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Sky Mountain Park plan ready for review

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Courtesy of Pitkin County
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ASPEN – Pitkin County officials will take up a management plan for Sky Mountain Park Tuesday that contains proposed new trails and the continuation of a wintertime closure that led to citations for three individuals who violated the restriction last weekend.

Rangers cited two mountain bikers and a jogger in the park, according to John Armstrong, county Open Space and Trails ranger. The jogger was heading up Radar Road, while the bicyclists entered the closed area from the Snowmass Village end of the open space, he said. The two routes both access Skyline Ridge Trail, which runs along the spine separating the Brush Creek and Owl Creek valleys outside Snowmass. The citations each carry a $100 fine.

Most of Sky Mountain Park, including the popular Skyline Ridge Trail, is closed to recreational use from Dec. 1 through May 15, and there are multiple signs communicating the closure at access points on both ends of the ridge – at Radar Road behind the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport and at the base of Viewline Trail near Snowmass Village.



“We absolutely will write tickets when people are violating the closure,” Armstrong said Monday.

According to the draft management plan, limited access should be allowed to monitor wildlife, and rangers have determined that elk are still on and around the ridge this spring, according to Gary Tennenbaum, Open Space and Trails land steward.



“They’re all over the place,” he said. “They’re not in the calving grounds yet, but they are pregnant, and it’s not a great time to be bothering them.”

The draft management plan details proposed new trail connections, trailheads and parking, habitat restoration, noxious-weed eradication, dog prohibitions, the continued wintertime closure of most of the property and limited hunting access. Sky Mountain Park encompasses 2,500 acres of open space parcels stretching from the edge of Snowmass Village to Highway 82 and beyond. The various properties represent acquisitions spearheaded by the county, Snowmass and the city of Aspen. The December 2010 purchase of the former Droste property for $17 million tied the parcels together and secured the ridgetop traverse, the Skyline Ridge Trail.

Proposed new trail connections, including additional routes to access Skyline Ridge, are likely to see discussion Tuesday when county commissioners meet jointly with the county Open Space and Trails board of trustees to review the master plan. (The Sky Mountain Park discussion is scheduled at 11 a.m. in the commissioners’ Plaza One meeting room; the session is open to the public. Go to http://www.aspenpitkin.com/openspace to view the draft plan.)

Kevin Wright, district wildlife manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, has outlined his concerns with the impact of some proposed trails in the park on wildlife habitat, in a letter to Open Space and Trails. He also praised the ecological restoration and habitat improvement efforts outlined in the draft plan.

“I do not think it is in the best interest of wildlife to construct as many trails as proposed,” he wrote.

“Every time you put a trail in there someplace, you’re fragmenting the habitat,” Wright said Monday. Though the winter closure helps protect deer and elk habitat, more trails and human use can affect other wildlife populations, he said.

“It’s not just deer and elk that we’re concerned about,” he said.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife also does not support opening the paved Brush Creek Trail to winter use, according to Wright. That option is proposed for continued evaluation by open space officials.

Wright has also voiced concern about a proposed trailhead at Sinclair Divide, off Owl Creek Road. He noted the potential for violations of the closure and suggested a locked gate until June 21 of each year at that access point to protect “sensitive production areas” above it.

Wright also questioned allowing elk hunting on the former Droste property after Sky Mountain Park closes in December, rather than during existing rifle seasons in October and November. Open space officials want to avoid conflicts between hunters and other users, but December is a time when the animals should be left undisturbed, Wright said.

janet@aspentimes.com


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