Sky Mountain Park use stabilizes as Aspen trail network grows
The number of people using the Sky Mountain Park trails appears to have stabilized in 2016 after phenomenal growth while the network evolved in 2013 and 2014.
The Airline Trail logged 8,417 uses from July through October this year compared to 8,853 uses over the same period last year, according to statistics tracked by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails. Use was up slightly in August and significantly in October over 2015. The number of riders and other users was lower in July and September than in 2015.
The open space program has installed automated counters on some but not all of its trails. They are triggered by mountain bikers, hikers, equestrians and big game. They don’t necessarily represent different users. If a person climbs Airline, partakes of other parts of the park, then descends Airline on the same outing they would be counted twice.
Sky Mountain Park is a good place to gauge use because several trails have counters. The trail network was greatly expanded in fall 2013 with the addition of the Airline and Cozyline trails. Airline provides access for people that typically park at Buttermilk or ride from Aspen. Cozyline is popular with downvalley residents who park at the Intercept Lot at the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road.
The Deadline Trail, a flow trail dedicated to downhill travel only, was a popular addition in summer 2014. Since then, the Ditchline Trail has also been added to the park.
Airline is, by far, the most popular ingress and egress to Sky Mountain Park with an average of 2,100 users per month from July through October. Cozyline, which is longer and isn’t quite as buffed out overall, averages about 1,500 users per month.
Viewline, which provides access off of Highline Drive in Snowmass Village, saw use surge in 2016. There were 5,558 uses from July through October compared to just 3,293 for the same period in 2014.
Viewline has become increasingly popular with people who climb it to access the thrills of the Deadline downhill.
John Armstrong, senior ranger with Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, has been patrolling routes for 10 years. He said the overall use is on the rise.
“The trend is just more use of all trails at all times,” he said.
The counts on individual routes might not reflect that because as more trails have been built, users have been more dispersed. For example, the construction of new trails in recent years by the open space programs of Pitkin County and Aspen has brought a renaissance of the Smuggler Mountain, Hunter Creek Valley and Four Corners network.
In Snowmass Village, the town government has teamed with Aspen Skiing Co. and Pitkin County to expand the network at and around the ski area.
In the midvalley, the evolution of trails on The Crown has made enticed more riders to stay put more often, especially in the spring and fall.
The latest addition to the network was Seven Star Trail, which connects to the Rim Trail North on the ridge above Snowmass Village or it can be ridden as an up-and-back. It opened Nov. 14 and attracted 247 in just 16 days until its winter closure.
Many of the trails in the open space program’s network are closed from Dec. 1 until May 16 to prevent disruption of wildlife.
And speaking of wildlife, the motion-triggered cameras that Pitkin County Open Space and Trails maintains along some of the trails shows abundant use by wildlife. Some photos that stand out include a mountain line walking on Cozyline Trail during an unusually dry November this year. A photo from March 2016 shows a gorgeous, fluffed up fox on the prowl on the Viewline Trail. A camera captured a close-up shot of an elk cow along Skyline Ridge in January 2015.
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