The Pitkin County Board of Commissioners will take up a second reading and public hearing Aug. 14 before voting on whether to adopt a recommendation by the Open Space and Trails board to acquire 10 acres near the south end of Filoha Meadows.
The $1,550,000 purchase from current owner Jeff Wilden would provide some attractive enhancements to the much-beloved Filoha Meadows Nature Preserve. The Open Space and Trails (OST) board voted 3-0 on July 11 to recommend approval of the acquisition.
First on the list of benefits is a more modern, safer bridge to access the Meadows. Currently, county officials as well as groups like the Roaring Fork Conservancy must utilize a pedestrian bridge over the Crystal River that was originally “cobbled together by some coal miners back when they were still ranching on Filoha Meadows,” said Dale Will, Acquisition and Special Projects Director for the county. “It was never engineered. It has steel posts sitting on river rock without any footer.” At least four evening programs at Filoha were cancelled this summer due to high flows in the Crystal, a problem that would be eliminated by using the Wilden property bridge.
Additionally, the purchase would provide a practical gateway to the property. That is, visitors could safely park off of Highway 133 and equipment could be stored. It would also ensure that more development does not occur in the area, which would likely disturb the wildlife the Nature Preserve is known for. “We don’t need any more houses right on the boundary of Filoha,” said Will. “By buying the property we’re able to eliminate any further development of it.”
“The parcel could also play a role in a future trail between Redstone and Penny Hot Springs, since the trail plan approved last year does not have an alignment that would go through Filoha Meadows,” said Gary Tennenbaum, director of Open Space and Trails, in a press release.
Finally, the property has two houses on it, which could end up being a residence for a Pitkin County ranger or even a Colorado Parks and Wildlife official stationed in the Crystal Valley. “It really makes sense for us to have that to keep an eye on Filoha and get in and out of there,” said Will.
“We have owned this stunningly beautiful stretch of the Crystal River since 2006,” said seller Jeff Wilden, who was represented by Doug Leibinger of Compass Real Estate. “We are very pleased to work with the county’s Open Space Program to see our property now enhance Filoha Meadows Nature Preserve.”
The natural thermal wetland is regarded as one of the crown jewels of Pitkin County Open Space. The site, across the river from the famed Penny Hot Springs, was once home to the Ute Indians. “Our journey with Filoha Meadows goes back a long ways,” said Will. “We found books in the Aspen library that had eyewitness accounts of Ute teepee circles down there by Penny Hot Springs.” Will pointed out that the property is primarily managed as a nature preserve with limited public access. He highlighted the great amount of biodiversity found there, including fireflies, wild flowers, Thompson Big Eared Bats, bighorn sheep, and an elk herd.
The public is able to access the property during special events, such as the Roaring Fork Conservancy’s firefly walk. Will hopes the acquisition goes through to allow such programs to operate smoothly. “We want the public to learn about how important and significant it is. It helps people support land conservation overall.”
According to the press release, Filoha Meadows and Penny Hot Springs are just two of OST’s growing number of open spaces up the Crystal. The hot springs, located west of the river and opposite from the north end of Filoha, are the focus of a current management planning process, while the management plan for Filoha is scheduled to be updated in 2020.
“If all goes well and we complete the purchase, we will fold it in to the Filoha Master Plan revisions and everyone will have a chance to weigh in on it,” said Will. The board will also be accepting comment at the Aug. 14 public hearing.