Bridges will be built to protect wetlands |

Bridges will be built to protect wetlands

Scott Condon/The Aspen TimesThe U.S. Forest is installing bridges to protect a wetland near El Jebel in anticipation of higher use. Trail users previously crossed the area on logs.

EL JEBEL ” The U.S. Forest Service is trying to protect a sensitive wetland from getting trampled, without creating a trail that captures more human attention.

The agency is trying to “get people up and out of the natural system” in a wetland along the Roaring Fork River in El Jebel, said Mike Kenealy, acting ranger in the Aspen/Sopris district.

A crew is building bridges in two swampy areas where people have traditionally crossed logs and skipped along boards and rocks to avoid the water. By building bridges, Kenealy said, people won’t wander to find the easiest route through the wetlands. When they do that, they can crush sensitive vegetation.

A few narrow trails wind through a diverse range of vegetation. One trail is within spitting distance of the river. The Forest Service held onto 56 acres of the old tree farm when it swapped property with Eagle and Pitkin counties in the 1990s.

Some of that acreage includes the wetland.

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It is great habitat for wildlife, and one of the few river areas in the Roaring Fork Valley in public hands that is not threatened with development, Kenealy said.

The Forest Service owns about a mile of riverfront property.

That wetlands absorb flood waters in the spring and filters sediments: “It’s the liver, if you will, of the river system,” he said.

Forest Service officials think it’s a good bet that use of the wetland will increase when nearby Crown Mountain Park opens this year. Although the wetland isn’t part of the park, Kenealy said, some people will discover it by wandering away from the park.

The bridges appear to be a bit of overkill because, in order to clear flood waters, they hang several feet over the wetlands and dwarf the logs that people previously used to navigate the swampy areas.

Kenealy said the bridges could make the trail network more attractive for less adventurous hikers. However, the agency won’t promote the trail as a destination. No signs will lead to the area from Crown Mountain Park, he said.

The bridges represent more active management of the wetlands. The Forest Service closed the area to hunting in 2005.

Bicycles probably will be banned, Kenealy said, and dogs probably will be restricted to leashes. That always causes dog owners to “freak,” but it is in the best interest of the wetland, Kenealy said.

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