Fourth of July weekend promises to be a busy one at North Star Nature Preserve, a popular spot for people to paddleboard and tube a section of the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen. On June 24, Pitkin County approved a new management plan for the preserve, ushering in some rule changes.
One of the most visible updates is that parking won’t be allowed at the take-out, and all parking will be on the same side of the road as North Star. It’s a measure taken to limit people crossing Colorado State Highway 82.
There’s also a “quiet zone” that applies to the entire length of the river, meaning no audible music and no dogs. Gary Tennenbaum, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails director, said it is part of an effort to reduce a “party atmosphere” in the preserve. There used to be a quiet zone along a small section of the river that passed through a heron nesting area.
Rangers will also continue to enforce rules that prohibit people from stopping on beaches along the river, save for one spot that permits floaters to stop ashore.
Tennenbaum spoke with Aspen Public Radio to break down the reasoning behind some of the changes.
Why is it important to make changes at all to the management plan? Why is this not one plan that's set in stone for perpetuity?
Gary Tennenbaum: The reality is we always have to be adaptive because use changed. The original management plan was created in 2000 and we didn't update it until 2015. Things were working pretty well. And then you started to see significantly increased use of tubing and paddleboards. And so we needed to make changes.
And since 2015, we really do have to go through a management plan update about every five years. That's kind of mandated in our conservation easement with Aspen Valley Land Trust, but it's also good to really take a new look at North Star and go, “What's next? What has worked? What needs more work? How do we adapt?”
Also, we are monitoring the wildlife out there. If things change in the wildlife use of the property and it's negative, we've got to change the recreation use or do some intervention, and we need to be able to update the management plan to make that happen.
North Star is obviously a nature preserve, but it's also turned into quite an important attraction for human visitors too. Who is at the top of the list when you're making decisions?
GT: The main consideration from the Board of County Commissioners and the Open Space board is, it is a wildlife preserve first. Truly, so far, the wildlife hasn't been impacted by the amount of use out there. Eighty-eight percent of the property is closed and people are not really violating that. So overall, we're trying to manage it for wildlife, but allow use, because honestly it's an incredible float. And if people can respect it and whisper when they go through there, instead of having the party atmosphere, I think we can continue to allow use and not have to look at other measures.
But we're also going to be looking at, if the amount of use continues to increase, do we have to look at a capacity issue? And so we're hoping everyone can respect the preserve so we don't have to go to those measures.
What's next, even further down the road? Are there some longer term strategies or plans you'd like to put in place that didn't make it into this latest management plan?
GT: There's a lot of action items in the plan that we're going to be looking at. One of the big things is doing a land exchange with the Forest Service. So Pitkin County would own and manage Wildwood. And so if you can manage to put-in and take-out at the same time, that would allow us to be able to manage the use on the river.
If the use continues to increase and we have impacts to wildlife, we can adjust that. We have a lot of things in the plan. That's not magically just going to happen tomorrow, but it'll happen over the next, hopefully three to five years.