ASPEN – A draft management plan for one of Pitkin County’s most revered open spaces, North Star Nature Preserve, is open to a five-week public comment period starting today – Monday, May 4. The county’s Open Space and Trails Board and county commissioners gave the draft plan an initial nod late last month.
The plan is an update to both a 2000 management plan for North Star and 2001 interim plan for the James H. Smith North Star Open Space. The two properties comprise roughly 245 acres of open space south of Aspen, where the Roaring Fork River winds through an area of wetlands and meadows. The open space encompasses significant ecological communities and wildlife habitat. The intent is to fold management of both properties into a single, comprehensive plan that emphasizes the property’s status as a nature preserve. The draft plan addresses public access and recreational use, and proposes measures to improve or maintain the ecological attributes of the open space.
“Our goal is continuing the ecological protections that that the 2000 and 2001 plans successfully implemented, while allowing compatible recreational uses,” said Gary Tennenbaum, Assistant Director of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails.
The public can go to www.pitkinostprojects.com (click on North Star Management Plan) to view the draft plan and provide feedback. Comments will be accepted through June 5. Open Space and Trails will host an open house on the draft plan on Monday, May 18 from 5-7 p.m. in the county’s Plaza One meeting room, 530 E. Main St., Aspen.
“Work on this plan began last summer when we conducted in-person surveys of North Star users and accepted online feedback,” said Lindsey Utter, Senior Environmental Planner for Pitkin County Open Space and Trails. “The input, which we’ve included in the appendices of the draft plan, show people have pretty strong feelings about North Star.”
Studies of the wildlife, vegetation and landscape at North Star were also completed last summer. The result – the Ecological Communities and Fluvial Geomorphology Baseline Report – can also be viewed on the projects website.
North Star was acquired by Pitkin County in 1977, long before formation of the county’s Open Space and Trails program. The City of Aspen and Pitkin County purchased the adjacent James H. Smith property in 2001. The bulk of both parcels, west of the river, is off-limits to general public use, allowing it to function as a nature preserve. The river itself, however, has seen a dramatic rise in recreational use in recent years by people floating down the placid stretch. In winter, North Star is groomed for Nordic skiing east of the river.
The updated management plan proposes measures to better manage parking and access by the recreating public and continues to restrict access west of the river. Most boaters launch from an upstream property that is part of the national forest. Open Space and Trails proposes working with the Forest Service to better manage that property. The plan also proposes working with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies to educate river users on the property’s unique ecological features.
An on-land heron closure that is in place part of the year on the James H. Smith parcel would be expanded to a permanent closure, but the plan also allows for expansion of Nordic grooming onto a loop trail on the Smith property.
The draft plan would allow more commercial operators at North Star, but clamp down on group size among commercial river users, Utter noted. The existing limits on public and commercial paraglider landings at North Star would remain unchanged.
West of the river, the plan proposes possible steps to allow the river to more easily access its floodplain. Also proposed is stabilization of streambanks and other measures intended to counteract the effects of transmountain water diversions that, along with ranching, have altered the historic function of the property.
“Our ultimate goal is achieving a balance between public use of the property and its primary function as one of only two nature preserves within the county’s Open Space program,” Tennebaum said.
Contact: Gary Tennenbaum, Assistant Directorgary.firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-920-5355
Lindsey Utter, Senior Environmental Plannerlindsey.email@example.com or 970-920-5224