The savior of N✩rth Star
The Aspen Times
Major changes are coming to the North Star Nature Preserve this summer, and it’s Kelly Wood’s job to implement them.
Wood, a longtime Roaring Fork Valley local, is the point person in an unusual partnership among the U.S. Forest Service, local governments and a private landowner to try and get a handle on problems that have cropped up at the preserve as it’s gotten more popular in recent years.
“I know the area and I know the people,” Wood said in an interview last week. “I’m not afraid to take names and write tickets, though that is a last resort.”
The North Star Preserve features the Roaring Fork River’s only stretch of flat water, which provides a cool, mellow summer float for boaters, rafters and paddleboarders. However, the area’s popularity has caused parking problems at the Wildwood put-in as well as complaints about noise, litter and other impacts.
So officials with the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program set about finding a solution to those problems. Initially the plan was to use the program’s open space rangers to patrol Wildwood, but because the put-in area is owned by the Forest Service, that was not an option.
But the Forest Service has no money to patrol the put-in, so county officials came up with a plan to pay for a Forest Service employee to do the job.
Gary Tennenbaum, assistant director of the program, was able to cobble together funds from Pitkin County, the Open Space and Trails Board, the city of Aspen and a private landowner in the North Star area to pay for the $25,000 position — called a forest protection officer — now occupied by Wood.
Wood, 50, had already worked part-time during summers for the Forest Service and had been previously trained as a forest protection officer, so she was a natural choice for the job, forest service officials said.
She’s been on the job since mid-May and has been spending more time at Wildwood, she said.
“The main plan is getting Wildwood usable and self-maintained so a person doesn’t have to be there all day directing traffic,” Wood said.
Previous parking problems at Wildwood have included cars blocking access to Wildwood School, blocking the fire lane and parking in no-parking areas along the entrance road and Highway 82.
Now, Wildwood will only have space for no more than nine vehicles, she said. Everyone else will have to drop off members of their float party and park at the Southgate parking lot about a mile west on Highway 82, Wood said. Drivers can walk back to Wildwood along the East of Aspen Trail, she said.
So far there’s been a bit of grumbling from people used to the previous free-for-all, but most have been cooperative, Wood said.
“People are saying, ‘This isn’t what I did last year,’” she said. “(I say) ‘Here’s how we make it work. If we don’t make it work, what are the options here?’”
She said she will be mainly issuing warnings, though tickets could be possible for more egregious situations.
In addition to monitoring the parking situation, Wood also will educate boaters about proper behavior within the preserve. That includes no yelling, no loud partying, only stopping in specific areas and packing out all trash.
Beyond that, she also will help patrol the Smuggler/Hunter Creek Open Space areas and other spots.
Wood, a Carbondale resident, has lived in the valley since 1989. She’d been working as a park ranger at Yellowstone National Park when friends who spent winters in Snowmass Village invited her for the winter.
Wood did “the ski-bum thing” for a while as well as serving as the village’s animal control officer for four years in the early ’90s. Later she worked as a wildlife officer with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department before leaving to work for the Forest Service in 2009. During the winter, Wood drives a shuttle bus in Snowmass Village.
“It’s going to be an awesome summer,” she said.
The Aspen School District could collect an extra $1.2-1.5 million in tax dollars annually as a result of the district switching to local funding in fiscal year 2023-2024.