Pitkin County looks for hard closing dates for Maroon Creek, Castle Creek roads near Aspen | PostIndependent.com

Pitkin County looks for hard closing dates for Maroon Creek, Castle Creek roads near Aspen

A skier sets off from Ashcroft’s King Cabin on a groomed trail system outside of Aspen in January 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday tentatively set May 15 and Nov. 15 as the concrete dates to open and close the winter gates on Maroon Creek and Castle Creek roads.

However, in an effort to appease all users of those areas — including hunters, cross-country skiers and patrons of the Pine Creek Cookhouse — board members will take public comment on the issue at a future meeting and could alter those deadlines.

“There are larger numbers of user groups wanting to access those areas of our county (beyond the closure gates),” said Scott Mattice, the county’s road and bridge director. “There’s more users and more varieties (of users). It’s something new every day.”

Historically, the county has opened and closed the Maroon Creek and Castle Creek gates “on or around” May 15 and Nov. 15 each year. But the proliferation of user groups in recent years has led to complaints that gates are open or closed either too early or too late, Mattice said Tuesday during the county board’s regular weekly work session.

In an effort to allow the myriad user groups to make concrete plans, Mattice proposed setting hard dates to close Maroon Creek Road half a mile above the T-Lazy-7 Ranch and Castle Creek Road at Ashcroft. That would allow signs to be posted warning of the closures, he said.

Maroon Creek Road is less of a problem because it dead-ends at the Maroon Bells Scenic Area and there are no roads that allow four-wheel drive access from the back side, Mattice said. Commissioners agreed that the May 15 and Nov. 15 deadlines for that road were acceptable and spent little time talking about Maroon Creek.

Castle Creek Road, however, was another story.

Not only does Pearl Pass from Crested Butte end up on Castle Creek Road, but the area above the Ashcroft ghost town beckons cross-country skiers, hunters and food enthusiasts looking for a meal at the Pine Creek Cookhouse.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials lobbied to close Castle Creek Road on Nov. 27, which is the end date for 2022’s fourth and final hunting season. The Pine Creek Cookhouse owners and the manager of the Braun Hut system, on the other hand, requested keeping the Nov. 15 date to allow the snow base to build up on the road for cross-country skiers and those who trek to the restaurant.

Mattice and county road officials suggested Nov. 23 as a compromise.

Commissioners Steve Child, Greg Poschman and Francie Jacober said they would prefer the Nov. 15 date to preserve whatever snow falls during the early winter.

“It’s increasingly important to protect our snow,” Jacober said. “I think if you really want to get in there (as a hunter), there are lots of ways to get in there.”

Kurtis Tesch, CPW’s area wildlife manager, said the main problems with the earlier closing are that it falls in the middle of the hunting season — which would require hunters to relocate before the season is over — and that the only camping area for trailers is beyond the Castle Creek Road closure. Camping is not allowed at the Ashcroft parking lot.

The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office would be responsible for clearing the area of hunters before the Nov. 15 road closure, he said.

Varying weather from year to year also factored in on the discussion. Some years the snow flies earlier and other years, like this winter, the snow comes later, Mattice said. In the spring, sometimes the road dries in April, for example, and can be opened before May 15.

In the end, none of the board members supported the Nov. 23 date, and a majority felt the Nov. 15 date was better because more winter recreationalists use the area than hunters.

Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury suggested installing signs with the hard closure date of Nov. 15 and an opening day of “no later than May 15,” which was the winner among board members.

Child, however, wanted to give the public more opportunity to weigh in on the subject, so the board will hold a public hearing on the matter in the coming weeks to allow public comment. The board will make a final decision after the comment period.

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