Forest Service hopes to save special place
EL JEBEL ” The U.S. Forest Service is trying to protect a sensitive wetland from getting trampled, without creating a trail that captures more human attention.
The agency is trying to “get people up and out of the natural system” in a wetland along the Roaring Fork River in El Jebel, according to Mike Kenealy, acting ranger in the Aspen/Sopris district.
A crew is building bridges in two swampy areas where people have traditionally crossed logs and skipped along boards and rocks to avoid the water. By building bridges, Kenealy said, people won’t wander to find the easiest route through the wetlands. When they do that, they smash sensitive vegetation.
The wetlands is between the old Mount Sopris Tree Farm and the Roaring Fork River. Most users are residents of Sopris Village, Summit Vista and the surrounding neighborhood. Anglers also use the area.
A few narrow trails wind through a diverse range of vegetation. One trail is within spitting distance of the river. The Forest Service held onto 56 acres of the old tree farm when it swapped property with Eagle and Pitkin counties in the 1990s.
Some of that acreage includes the wetland. It is great habitat for wildlife, and one of the few river riparian areas in the Roaring Fork Valley in public hands that is not threatened with development, Kenealy said. The Forest Service owns about a mile of riverfront property.
That riparian area absorbs flood waters in the spring and filters sediments: “It’s the liver, if you will, of the river system,” he said.
Forest Service officials think it’s a good bet that use of the wetland will increase as Crown Mountain Park soars in popularity. The park, built on the old tree farm in El Jebel, will open officially this year. Although the wetland isn’t part of the park, Kenealy said, some people will discover it by wandering away from the park.
Rather than deal with anticipated consequences, the agency was proactive by building the bridge. The structures appear to be a bit of overkill because they hang several feet over the wetlands and dwarf the logs that people previously used to navigate the swampy areas. The bridges were built to be functional during the high water time in spring and early summer.
Kenealy acknowledged that the bridges could make the trail network more attractive for less adventurous hikers. However, the agency won’t promote the trail as a destination. No signs will lead to the area from Crown Mountain Park, he said.
The bridges represent more active management of the wetlands. The Forest Service closed the area to hunting in 2005. Bicycles probably will be banned, Kenealy said, and dogs probably will be restricted to leashes. That always causes dog owners to “freak,” but it is in the best interest of the wetland, Kenealy said.
He didn’t say when the restrictions would be enacted. Kenealy acknowledged that enforcement will be difficult because the wetland isn’t regularly patrolled. The agency will rely on voluntary compliance.
Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.
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