The combined Moore and Marolt/Thomas open space parcels, which sit west of Highway 82 at the entrance to Aspen, are among the most significant properties in the local public lands portfolio, setting the scenic edge of the Aspen urban area, preserving viewplanes and offering numerous recreation and gathering opportunities for the public.
They are owned by different government agencies and play host to a long list of uses and pressures that make for a complex management picture.
For the first time in nearly 20 years, Pitkin County next week will launch an update to the management plan for the Moore Open Space, in conjunction with an effort by the city of Aspen to create, for the first time, a management plan for its Marolt/Thomas Open Space. The kickoff will consist of an open house on Tuesday and a day of on-site public engagement on Wednesday.
Moore Open Space was the first major open space purchase for Pitkin County Open Space and Trails. The fledgling program acquired the 64.87-acre parcel, on the west corner of Highway 82 and Maroon Creek Road, in July 1992 for $3.06 million. The city’s ownership of the 74-acre Marolt/Thomas Open Space dates to the 1980s.
The two properties are linked by pedestrian bridges and both contain wintertime ski trails that are part of the Aspen-Snowmass Nordic Trail System. Biking and walking trails cross both properties. The Marolt-Thomas Open Space also features the Holden/Marolt Mining and Ranching Museum, Aspen Community Garden and a paraglider landing zone.
Each parcel has its own specific issues but it made sense to launch a public engagement process involving both properties together, officials said.
The city’s parcel sees more use than the mostly undeveloped Moore parcel thanks to paved trails, the paraglider landing area and the community garden. Parks department director Austin Weiss noted that even though it is classified as open space, the land has many characteristics of an active urban park.
Ben Carlsen, open space and natural resources manager for the city’s parks department, said that as use increases around the Marolt/Thomas Open Space, so does the potential for resource damage or user-group conflict.
“We just want to gauge public opinion on how the space is being used” and that input will form the basis of a guiding document on how the space will be managed for the future, he said.
Much of the Marolt/Thomas parcel was used as agricultural land before it came into city ownership. While there was some historic agricultural use of the Moore Open Space parcel, it is more characteristic of the lowlands that used to mark the Roaring Fork Valley floor before modern development.
According to the county’s 2001 management plan: “The Moore Open Space is a small remnant of an ecological community that once dominated the Roaring Fork Valley lowlands. Most of the mountain big sage shrublands in the valley were first converted to hayfields, potato fields and pasture, which have subsequently been converted for residential and commercial development. This ecological community is considered to be globally vulnerable throughout its range.”
The parcel was then, and remains, a critical habitat for a resident herd of mule deer, numerous migratory songbirds, and at least three species of small mammals, including coyotes and badgers. A county open space official said an ecological inventory is in the works to confirm existing conditions. It’s significant in that it is one of the largest, high-quality mountain sagebrush habitats left in the upper valley.
“In purchasing an open space property to ‘define the edge of the Aspen urban area,’ the open space program was courageous, particularly in light of the public’s relative lack of familiarity with the ecological importance of the mountain big sage community,” says the 2001 management plan. “The demand for land in this vicinity for other public uses such as transportation or housing has grown with the boom in local development generally … Moore Open Space warrants the utmost protection in order to preserve an important piece of the watershed’s natural heritage.”
No major changes are envisioned for the Moore parcel, but an update to its management plan is long overdue, according to Lindsey Utter, planning and outreach manager for the county’s open space office.
Public input into the management of the two open spaces at the entrance to Aspen is welcome.
On Tuesday, open space staff from both the city and county will host an open house at Aspen’s Red Brick dance studio, 110 E. Hallam St., from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Staffers will be available to answer questions and the county will make a brief survey available for initial input into planning the management of Moore Open Space. The questionnaire also is available online, at pitkinOSTprojects.com (click on the Moore Open Space Management Plan link). The city will have a survey available at aspenrecreation.com/open-spaces (the survey will become available after June 25).
City and county staff will be on site at Marolt-Thomas Open Space from 7:30-10:30 a.m. on Wednesday to engage with citizens at the site.