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Crowds tamed at North Star Preserve

Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Public Radio

Increased enforcement at North Star Nature Preserve appeared to be working over the holiday weekend. Aspen Public Radio’s Elizabeth Stewart-Severy was there to see how the crowds are managed.



On July 4 at 2 p.m., six cars were stacked two deep at the Wildwood put-in. River users have come up with a creative way to pack more cars into the limited parking at the heavily used stretch of river. They are leaving their keys in the cars with notes on the windshield for other floaters to move their vehicle if they need to.

Kelly Wood is a protection officer for the U.S. Forest Service and enforces the parking here. She doesn’t encourage double-parking, but she is pleased that fewer people are in the fire lane.

To deal with problems with parking, noise, and litter, officials from Open Space and Trails, the Forest Service, and Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) have teamed up to educate users and enforce rules.

Wood said so far, it’s working.


“Explaining why the change has been very important, and then once people understand why and then their options, has really helped,” Wood said. “And everybody has been really cooperative for the most part because they don’t want this place to go away.“

While the Forest Service handles the put-in parking, Open Space and Trails monitors the take-out at Stillwater Bridge. Lead ranger Pryce Hadley said dangerous traffic on Highway 82 is still a concern.

“I have seen so many close calls out there that my biggest concern is someone getting hit and I’m urging people to park responsibly and stay out of traffic,” Hadley said.

ACES is on the scene to remind people that amplified music is not allowed, in part because it disturbs a rare high-altitude habitat for great blue herons. Claire Shope sat in a camp chair, waiting for the next group of floaters. She is a naturalist with ACES, here to explain that loud music often causes great blue herons to fly off their nests.  

“When they’re having to take an extra flight that’s not for food, that’s just because they’re startled, they’re going to be expending too much energy. That’s energy and fat that they just don’t have when it comes to the winter and that might be the difference between life and death for them,” Shope said.

This year’s Fourth of July was quieter and calmer than last year, when people like paddle boarder Matt Hecht said they loaded up trucks with other people’s trash. He said things have improved, but there is still garbage in the river and along the banks.

“I still have dove in for beer cans and litter in the basin. I think that it would be great if they put some trash cans in,” Hecht said.

Gary Tennenbaum, assistant director of Open Space and Trails, said managing a public garbage can at the congested take-out would be “a disaster.” Rangers are focusing on educating people on “Leave No Trace” ethics and encouraging river users to pack out their own trash.


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