Land managers: Don’t poach closed trails in Aspen-Snowmass

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
This bear sow and its cub were captured last year by a survelliance camera hidden beside a trail. Closures are in place on several trails on Burnt Mountain until June 21 to protect wildlife.
Snowmass Village Animal Services |

Last weekend’s snowstorm will dampen the pressure of mountain bikers and hikers to get onto backcountry trails, at least for a while, but local land managers are reminding people to honor closures throughout the spring.

Several trails are off limits until later in the spring to benefit wildlife. Trails on and at the base of Burnt Mountain between Snowmass and Buttermilk ski areas are closed so that elk aren’t disturbed during calving season.

“Elk move into the lower elevations first,” said Laurie Smith, an officer with Snowmass Village Animal Services. “They follow the snow line up.”

The Tom Blake Trail, Anaerobic Nightmare and Sequel are all closed from April 25 through June 20. Government Trail, higher on the mountain, is closed from May 15 through June 20.

A video by Phil Nyland, a wildlife biologist with the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service, said that human activity can force cow elk to flee an area. Their calves will struggle to keep up and could easily be separated. The calves, obviously, depend on their moms for milk and survival.

The closure is needed for more animals than elk, Smith said. Many animals are giving birth to young in the prime Burnt Mountain habitat during spring.

Several trails that are currently closed will open in May. The popular Rio Grande Trail, which is paved, will be entirely open starting May 1. A 2½-mile stretch is closed during winter months along Rock Bottom Ranch for the benefit of wildlife.

The Crown, a popular recreation area in the midvalley that is overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, is closed to motorized and mechanized uses until April 15 although officers with Colorado Parks and Wildlife want the closure extended through April.

North Rim Trail in Snowmass Village is closed until May 16.

Sky Mountain Park, the hillside owned by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, is closed until May 16. That includes the popular cycling trails of Airline, Cozyline, Deadline and Skyline Ridge Trail.

Gary Tennenbaum, assistant director of the open space program, said he understands some people get frustrated in spring when trail conditions are dry out but the closure remains in effect. They need to be patient and realize the closures aid wildlife. Elk migrate through Sky Mountain Park to get to the calving grounds, he said. Deer use Sky Mountain Park year-round and typically can evade people as long as they stay on the trails, Tennenbaum said. However, deer are fawning during the spring and need their space.

Only a few people ignore the closures, Tennenbaum said. “Honestly, I think people understand it’s not an option,” he said.

People generally receive one warning for ignoring a closure on county lands. The first offense is punishable by a $100 fine.

Penalties are stiffer on Snowmass Village’s closed trails. They can range from $50 to $5,0000.

Tina White, also an officer with Snowmass Village Animal Services, said compliance with the closures was high in 2014. An above average snowpack kept trails snowy or sloppy further into spring. It’s hard to tell if conditions or willful compliance kept people off trails, White acknowledged.

“We’d like to think people are honoring the closure,” she said.

Snowmass Village, Aspen Skiing Co. and the Forest Service use gates, signs and surveillance cameras to ensure compliance.

“We all agree we have to protect Burnt Mountain. It’s a pretty special place for our wildlife,” Smith said. “We need to get (all trail users) on board with the ethic.”

The cameras have captured images of people walking around or climbing the gates. There won’t be any warnings for ignoring closures on Snowmass Village trails.

“We’re just going into ticket mode. There’s been enough education,” White said.


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