Pitkin County’s proposed updated management plan for an open space parcel whose size is outweighed by its significance sketches a desire to maintain the status quo, through there is interest from various interest groups — including the city of Aspen — to create additional trails in and around the Moore Open Space.
The public has until Sept. 6 to comment on the Moore Open Space draft management plan, which has been in the works since June. County open space staff will be at the site near the entrance to the property at the roundabout bus pullout today from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. to collect public comment. The county’s Open Space and Trails Board is scheduled to adopt the plan at its Oct. 3 meeting.
The 65-acre Moore Open Space parcel sits south of Highway 82 and west of Maroon Creek Road, creating vital viewplane protection — Pyramid Peak dominates the frame as you near the entrance to Aspen — and critical wildlife habitat. The parcel is among the last intact remnants on the valley floor of the mountain big sagebrush terrain that once dominated the upper valley. It also provides widely used trail connections, linking the golf course and the rest of the Nordic trail network in the winter and mountain biking routes between town and Tiehack in the summer.
Neighbors include the Aspen schools campus, Aspen Valley Hospital and a privately owned parcel where the city holds a license agreement — which has been renewed every three years — to allow the winter and summer use of the trail connecting to the Tieback footbridge.
“The general theme from comments was that people love Moore Open Space just as it is,” the draft management plan says, noting that officials collected 65 comments on the process this summer and that “users love the views and natural habitats.”
“A few comments were received regarding additional mountain bike trails or fat bike trails in winter months,” the draft plan states.
Currently, fat bikes and dogs are not permitted on the trails in winter, though dogs are allowed on leash in the summer. Travel is required to stay on existing trails.
The unique nature of the undeveloped parcel at the urban edge is paramount to maintain, per the mission of the open space program, the draft plan notes.
“Maintaining habitat effectiveness with trail-free areas is important to supporting bird and wildlife populations. While some public comments offered ideas to add uses or improvements to the property and trails, the action items that follow seek to honor the original intent of the acquisition, which called for a passive, nature-focused experience with trails and educational opportunities.”
The document goes on to list management objectives related to biodiversity protection and maintenance including continuing noxious weed management, vegetation and wildlife monitoring and working with adjacent landowners to maintain or enhance open space values.
The document notes that the city of Aspen has “expressed a future need” to reroute its existing multi-use path that connects the roundabout to Aspen Highlands. That trail currently passes through the Aspen School District campus before crossing Maroon Creek Road via footbridge at the Aspen Recreation Center.
“Not only is the current alignment difficult for visitors to navigate, it is also not desirable to have a public recreational trail passing through the school campus,” the draft plan says. “Open Space and Trails will work with city of Aspen Parks and Open Space in planning a trail that follows Maroon Creek Road and utilizes the road right-of-way. It is not recommended to pave a trail within Moore Open Space; however, if during the feasibility analysis, small portions of the southern edge of the Moore property are needed to develop the trail, this use can be considered.”
Ben Carlsen, the open space and natural resource manager in the city’s parks department, noted that thinking on the potential reroute of the Maroon Creek corridor trail off the schools campus is still preliminary. Funds will be requested for next year’s budget to begin a potentially year-long planning process.
The public has until Sept. 6 to submit comments on the draft management plan update produced by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails for the Mo…
Any trail bordering or encroaching on the edge of the county’s Moore Open Space parcel would be done in a way that would not compromise the parcel’s unspoiled aesthetic, Carlsen said. It is likely that the city would propose rerouting the entire trail to the Moore side of Maroon Creek Road from the roundabout, to avoid sending pedestrians across the busy road where the trail currently veers left onto campus. There is not enough room on the schools side of the road to relocate the trail, particularly where the road bends around the football field, he noted.
The city would aim to use the right of way emanating from the road as much as possible from the trail, limiting use of Moore Open Space land.
The city also has in its long-term plan a potential single-track trail skirting the edge of Moore Open Space along the south side of Highway 82 that would lead to Buttermilk. Carlsen said this plan is further into the future than the schools trail reroute.
Other trail concepts that could be pitched for the land include linking the north and south trail alignments through the property so Nordic skiers could take advantage of a figure-eight loop. Those routes are used mostly by trail runners and mountain bikers in the summer and some thought is being given to making minor tweaks to those alignments to make the trail more sustainable. There appears to be little appetite to develop the parcel into a contained mountain biking destination, though it garners appreciation as a throughway. At one point in the draft, planners write that “the existing summer and winter public trail network seems to have struck a balance between trail connections and native habitat.”
All the public comments collected in the process are available to download at on the open space department’s project page.
“Passing through Moore Open Space on a mountain bike ride is superior to the roughly parallel alternate of following the bike paths, sidewalks and paved roads through the Aspen schools campus,” wrote Mike Pritchard, the head of the Roaring Fork Mountain Biking Association, in a comment attached to the draft. “ … The trails could be slightly improved to maintain the relatively beginner level trail experience, and to allow the trails to remain dry soon after any rain events. …Summer mountain bike access should continue, and winter fat bike access should be considered in coordination with the Nordic Council (separate fat bike loop could be groomed roughly parallel to the winter nordic trails in the area).”
In an unsigned comment, another person wrote, “Moore is cool, but seems to have an outdated management plan. I understand many of the existing trails are not in the plan, and I know of multiple “social” trails built by neighbors that could be consolidated or eliminated. I would like to see the beginner singletrack bike riding at Moore be preserved without development of over-the-top flow trails as have been built in some other areas.”
That draft plan notes, that “it is important to educate users about the ecological value of this small but mighty open space” and contemplates an interpretive panel.
“The messaging can promote public understanding about the significance of the mountain big sagebrush ecological complex that has been protected and was once found throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, as well as the wildlife that depends on the open space,” the draft plan says.
The city’s statement property
Concurrent to the county launching its update of the Moore Open Space plan, which was released in 2001, the city’s parks department began its first-ever management plan scoping process for the Marolt/Thomas Open Space. That 74-acre parcel borders the roundabout, Castle Creek and Castle Creek Road, connecting directly to the downtown core via the Marolt footbridge at Seventh Street and Hopkins Avenue.
Marolt/Thomas is connected to the Moore Open Space via trails and pedestrian bridges to the west, often blending together in the public’s mind as protecting the entrance to Aspen. Marolt/Thomas, however, is more developed than Moore, with paved trails, the Holden/Marolt Mining and Ranching Museum, a paraglider landing zone and the Aspen Community Garden.
Though this is the first parks department-led planning process for the Marolt parcel, it has been studied at length as the potential site of a new Highway 82 alignment expanding the entrance to Aspen. The Colorado Department of Transportation approved such a plan in 1998, but opposition to building a new highway through the open space is one of the strongest strains in Aspen politics and the plan never passed muster locally. Developing a new bridge into Aspen remains a passionate cause for some, as well, though any such concept has been dead on arrival at city hall for roughly a decade.
Despite that history, Carlsen said that in the initial scoping process for the Marolt management plan, out of 150 comments, only one mentioned the highway and the writer was not in favor of a realignment.
The parks department now has the chance to plan for the future of the property without having to grapple with the highway. Because of the first-time nature of the planning process, the city’s plan is taking longer than the county’s to complete and Carlsen said a draft is still two to four weeks away. The public will have additional opportunity to comment once the document is released and proposed for adoption.
Overall, Carlsen said the property is an important statement for the kind of community Aspen is and aspires to be — one that prioritizes the environment, open space and a scale meant to be appreciated by a person walking along a footpath. That it’s the first thing you see when you drive into town makes that importance even greater.