It’s still dark outside when Simon deftly eases the PistenBully grooming machine out of the garage bay door and onto the snow-covered Aspen Golf Course.
The landscape, so familiar during daylight hours, is disorienting at night to the uninitiated. Immediately, Simon adjusts the multi-function control stick in his right hand and begins rolling a new layer of corduroy over the multitude of diagonal gouges scratched into the snowpack by the prior day’s Nordic skiers. After checking his work in the rear window, he re-adjusts to ensure the grooming machine is erasing the scuffed-up surface, combing it into a smooth ribbon of rolled snow. We’re moving at speed 6 on a machine with speed settings of 1 (are we moving?) to 9 (slow).
The majority of land acreage protected by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails funding is held privately as conservation easements. A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and qualified organization in which perpetual restrictions are placed on a property to protect identified conservation values and limit development. Simply put, a conservation easement allows a private property owner to protect their property from unwanted activities forever.
Pitkin County was granted its first easement in 1983, seven years before the creation of the Open Space and Trails (OST) program. After the creation of OST, the County had funding to purchase conservation easements; to date it has spent over $32 million working with landowners in Pitkin County to create conservation easements that protect agricultural, wildlife, scenic, historic and recreation values. Pitkin County holds 62 conservation easements that are managed by OST.
Roughly half of Pitkin County’s open space lands are closed seasonally or, in a few cases, entirely, for the protection of wildlife.
Wintertime closures typically start in December, when snows begin to accumulate and temperatures drop. While black bears hibernate, other large mammals must forage and move about through deepening snow, taxing their energy reserves during the harshest months of the year. In addition, the females are often pregnant with young that will be born in the spring or early summer, adding to the challenge of finding enough to eat as shrubs and grasses disappear beneath the snow. The absence of humans means elk, deer, bighorn sheep and other species don’t have to expend energy unnecessarily in reaction to human presence.