Unusual Filoha Meadows finally opens to public | AspenTimes.com

Unusual Filoha Meadows finally opens to public

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

REDSTONE – Arguably one of the most unusual properties among Pitkin County’s open space landholdings opened to the public on July 1 – seven years after the final purchase in a series of acquisitions that has preserved a stunning stretch of the Crystal River Valley.

Visitors to the Filoha Meadows Nature Preserve can take in spectacular vistas and the verdant meadows from a one-time wagon road/railroad grade that traverses the property, east of the Crystal River and 2 miles north of Redstone, but the county’s management plan for the area restricts public access to that trail alone. And it is open just three months a year, during daylight hours. The trail is closed from a half-hour before sunset to a half-hour after sunrise to protect wildlife.

For the season, Filoha Meadows will be open through September, and closed Oct. 1 to June 30.

“As far as I know, that’s the longest seasonal closure of any publicly owned land in the Roaring Fork Valley,” said Dale Will, county Open Space and Trails director.

What visitors may not notice from the old rail bed, now devoid of rails and covered with non-native, yellow clover, are attributes that were discovered when the county began assessing the area’s plant and animal communities.

“There are so many surprises on this property,” said Sarah Johnson, a naturalist with the Roaring Fork Conservancy, who led a tour of the open space Friday morning, offering an authorized opportunity to stray off the trail.

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The property contains several orchid varieties, including the rare stream orchid.

“They’re not in any book – good luck finding them there,” she told a dozen or so mostly local residents who signed up for the tour, as she pointed out the delicate blossoms.

Botanists have also found beaked spike brush in the meadows – it’s only known to exist in two other areas of Colorado. And, the wetlands hold a population of fireflies, an insect rarely seen in the mountains.

The wetlands and pond-like springs themselves are unique, warmed by the area’s geothermal activity.

The warm ground creates unusual winter forage, attracting large mammals and prompting the winter closure. The meadow provides winter habitat for bighorn sheep and elk, and herds can be seen by passers-by on Highway 133 during the winter months. Elk calving occurs along the river in the springtime.

“It’s kind of like this little, mini-Yellowstone,” Will said.

The property’s former owner, Dr. Bernarr Johnson and his wife, who still reside on private land next to the meadow and wetlands, named the place Filoha – the Ethiopian word for “hot water” – after spending time in the African country.

The nature preserve is actually made up of three parcels: the 1.5-acre Penny Hot Springs, acquired by Open Space and Trails in 1991; the 140-acre Hot Springs Ranch, preserved in 2001 after it had been subdivided for development; and the 50-acre Filoha Meadows, protected in 2003.

The locally famous Penny Hot Springs, on the west bank of the Crystal and just off Highway 133, is open to public use year-round. The rest of the open space, on the east side of the river, can only be accessed by heading north out of Redstone, east of the river.

With the opening of the property, open space officials were busy figuring out where best to place signs to direct Filoha visitors. Users can ride a bicycle or walk north out of Redstone, but must leave their bicycle behind once they reach the gate at the open space border.

Bicycles, dogs and horses are not allowed at Filoha. Horses are prohibited to prevent their droppings from worsening an existing invasion of non-native plant species.

The pedestrian-only use was a compromise after contentious debate during the drafting of the management plan for the property, Will said. Opinions ranged from advocating a bike path through the property to keeping it closed to the public entirely.

“Some people felt this should be a place for quiet contemplation,” he said.

Go to http://www.roaringfork.org/filoha for more on Filoha Meadows and upcoming Roaring Fork Conservancy events at the open space.

janet@aspentimes.com

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