Sky Mountain Park to make way for horses |

Sky Mountain Park to make way for horses

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Courtesy of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails

ASPEN – The impact of horses on trails received the bulk of the discussion Thursday as open space officials from Aspen and Pitkin County took a final look at the Sky Mountain Park master plan before voting to approve the document during a joint meeting.

The goal was to have the master plan in place by the time the park opened this spring – and it almost was. The park, composed of 2,500 acres of open space outside Snowmass Village, opened for the season Wednesday. The Snowmass Town Board is scheduled to act on the document Monday.

While the park encompasses various properties, including the land that boasts the popular Rim Trail above Snowmass Village and Cozy Point Ranch, an equestrian facility owned by the city of Aspen, the centerpiece is the former Droste property and adjacent open space holdings. There, the Skyline View Trail traverses the ridge that separates the Brush Creek and Owl Creek valleys.

The master plan envisions some 15 miles of new trails to be constructed in phases, including a priority for construction this year – the Cozyline Trail to connect Cozy Point Ranch to Skyline with a crossing of Brush Creek Road.

In addition, the plan accommodates a commercial horseback operation at Cozy Point, allowing two groups of as many as six equestrians daily taking trail rides onto the ridge.

City Open Space Board member Charlie Eckart questioned the impact of horse traffic on the soft, shale trail surface, particularly after it rains.

“It’s going to absolutely brutalize both Cozyline Trail and Skyline Ridge Trail,” he predicted, suggesting that separate trails be created for equestrians to access the ridge on the Cozy Point end.

Horse droppings also will be an issue, said Eckart, an avid cyclist.

“You’re going to be riding through a lot of unwanted material. When it’s fresh, it tends to come up and slap you in the face,” he said.

There isn’t room for two separate trails to climb the steep property of Cozy Point South, near the intersection of Brush Creek Road and Highway 82, and the city wants Cozy Point to be able to offer trail rides to people who otherwise wouldn’t have that opportunity, the two boards were told.

Hotel concierges will help boost the horseback business if it’s available on the Skyline Ridge Trail, cautioned city Open Space Board member Karen Carner, a former concierge. It will be something new to suggest to resort guests.

“It’s going to be bombarded because they’re really going to be pushing this,” she said.

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the ridge, near Snowmass Village, a separate equestrian trail is planned to get riders to the ridge and back, leaving Viewline Trail to mountain bikers and hikers. The planned Flatline Trail, with a trailhead in Hidden Valley, is slated for construction in 2013 in the master plan, but Snowmass Town Councilman John Wilkinson said he will push the town to get a jump on its construction this summer.

Separate, equestrian-only trails throughout the property are inevitable at some point, predicted Hawk Greenway, a county Open Space and Trails Board member.

A relatively new addition to the trails plan for Sky Mountain Park is the Airline Trail, which has tentative approval to connect the paved Owl Creek Trail and the Cozyline Trail, traversing airport property above the valley and below the airport radar tower, perched on the east end of the ridge above Highway 82.

If the trail can be built, it will climb the ridge at a grade of about 7 percent as opposed to the 16 percent grade in some places on Radar Road, which is currently the only option to reach Skyline View Trail from the east end, off Owl Creek Road.

County open space land steward Gary Tennenbaum, who has walked the Airline route, said it will provide an unexpected amenity with its views of the airport below.

“You can see the planes taking off. It’s a cool view,” he said.

The master plan – which can be found at space – also details other new trail connections, parking opportunities, habitat restoration, noxious-weed eradication, dog prohibitions, a continued wintertime closure covering most of the property and limited hunting access.

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