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Aspen Glen group trying to protect elk, eagles and river

Jane Bachrach/Valley JournalElk graze near the Roaring Fork River on a typical winter morning at Aspen Glen near Carbondale. Homeowners at the exclusive golf course community have formed the Aspen Glen Environmental Sanctuary as a non-profit organization to educate residents and help protect the unique habitat.
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CARBONDALE – Aspen Glen resident Sue Hess doesn’t play golf, which might seem a little strange for someone living in the exclusive golf course community outside of Carbondale.

But then there’s a lot more to Aspen Glen than golf and other human recreational pursuits.



Even though Hess doesn’t golf, she is an avid angler. And it was her time spent fishing along the Roaring Fork River as it meanders through the former cattle ranch that made her realize just how special the place is, she said.

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“We’re non-golfers, so the river is our little corner of the world here,” said Hess, who helped organize a local fishing club a few years ago.



The club started out sponsoring monthly events such as fly-tying and casting clinics, Hess said. But it was a river habitat presentation by Colorado Division of Wildlife aquatic biologist Alan Czenkusch in 2004 that prompted the group to launch a greater environmental mission.

“We realized there really is a tremendous interest among the Aspen Glen homeowners to be stewards of this special place we have,” Hess said of the formation of the nonprofit Aspen Glen Environmental Sanctuary.

“We have a responsibility to protect the habitat, and to keep our community in as pristine a state as possible,” she said.

The group now operates on a nearly $16,000 annual budget with plans to hire an environmental manager and to do a variety of educational programming.

Aspen Glen is unique among the chain of private and public golf courses that have replaced ranches in the Roaring Fork Valley and in other resort regions of Colorado’s Western Slope.

“I’ve often said that, if a ranch has to be turned into a subdivision, Aspen Glen is one of the best models to follow,” Czenkusch said. “The thing about aquatic habitats is that no two are the same, and this one is unique.”

During the winter, a large elk herd frequents Aspen Glen and the neighboring land to the north and south, and bald eagles nest high above the river.

The river itself is among the best trout fisheries in Colorado, and the corridor it occupies is home to some 111 bird species, 37 mammal species and a variety of plants, some of them rare, according to a recent wildlife inventory of the Aspen Glen Open Space conducted by the nonprofit Roaring Fork Conservancy.

Development is prohibited on the open space along the river, and a special bald eagle protection zone was established that bars play on the 10th hole until any eaglets in the area have hatched and flown from their nets.

Aspen Glen had been fairly well preserved before it became a golf course. But the developers, with guidance from wildlife officials, stabilized the stream’s banks and enhancement a channel where brown trout spawn.

“We gained 600 feet of brown trout holding water where there was none before,” Czenkusch said. “It serves as insect habitat, which is important to maintain the fish. And it’s also good habitat for song birds.”

In addition to taking care of the streets and serving as head of security, Rex Baird, Aspen Glen’s director of community services, helps protect the elk herd in the winter.

“The main thing is to see that they’re not being disturbed, and that they have free roam of place as much as they can have,” Baird said. “We make sure people don’t have dogs out of control chasing the elk, and that homeowners not enlightened enough to know they’re not supposed to go out throw arms up, and make them run.”

And the importance of protecting the habitat, including the elk, isn’t lost on the golf course managers either.

“They try to fence off the greens in the winter, but the fairways are fair game (for the elk), so to speak,” Baird said. “There are usually some repairs they need to do in the spring, but they know that’s all part of it.”

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