Winter season recreation finds conflict in Aspen
While the term “winter recreation” conjures images of snow-peaked mountains, backcountry skiing and shredding powder, some of Aspen’s parks and trails receive as many visitors in the winter as they do during summer, according to Pitkin County Open Space and Trails senior ranger John Armstrong.
Smuggler Mountain trailhead, sometimes referred to as “Aspen’s backyard,” is one of these trails.
Armstrong said Smuggler sees roughly 400 visitors each day during the winter season, and sometimes even more.
“We have as big of days in the winter as we do in the summer, and sometimes maybe more,” Armstrong said, adding that Smuggler can experience as many as 600 visitors on peak winter-season days, particularly during the holidays and beautiful spring days.
And that’s not just Armstrong’s estimate — Pitkin County has 21 infrared trail counters that track everything from the number of trail users to the most popular time of day trails are used.
Of the hundreds of daily trailgoers, Armstrong said hiking is the most popular outdoor activity both during the winter and summer. Fat-tire biking and sledding also have increased in popularity during recent years, Armstrong said.
The fat-tire bikes have become so popular that some are now calling them “snow bikes,” Armstrong said, adding that the “uber athletes” ride around the backside of Smuggler and into Hunter Creek Valley.
Armstrong said he’s watched the fat-bike trend pick up in the past two years, and sledding “burgeon noticeably” within the past three.
Dog walking is another Smuggler activity that’s always prevalent and also problematic, Armstrong said.
Armstrong estimated that of the hundreds of hikers hitting Smuggler daily, roughly 40 percent bring their dogs with them.
While the county requires dog owners to carry bags with them to pick up their pets’ feces, pet owners neglecting to follow these rules have been a problem on Smuggler Mountain Trail for a while, and one that doesn’t change with the season, Armstrong said.
In fact, many park and trail visitors use the winter season as a reason to disregard these rules, Armstrong said, as he too often hears the excuse, “I didn’t think the rules pertained in the winter.”
To any and all negligent animal owners, on behalf of all park rangers, Armstrong requests that you please come up with a more creative excuse, “cause we’re not buying it,” he said.
Or, do the entire community and yourselves a favor and pick up after your pets, Armstrong said.
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