Three men have paid a combined $5,300 in fines and damages to Pitkin County for their involvement in establishing a bandit multi-use trail at the Airport Ranch Open Space, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails announced Monday.
Aspen resident Al Beyer paid $5,117 to the county in reparations, while two brothers from Old Snowmass, Benjamin and Nils Koons, each paid a $100 fine. Beyer and the Koons work together at Al Beyer Design Inc. in Aspen.
Pitkin County was prepared to pursue criminal charges against Beyer, seeking restitution for 2,000 feet of trail that was built east of Highway 82 and north of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. The illegal trail extended onto an adjacent, privately owned parcel that Open Space and Trails was in the process of purchasing, a statement from the county states.
The settlement between Beyer and the county was reached Friday with Beyer accepting responsibility for the damage. The disparity in charges was because Beyer was believed to have more involvement than the other men, Senior Ranger John Armstrong, who issued the citations, said.
In an email, Beyer said the trail was intended as a gift to the community and “wasn’t built for any group exclusively or for personal gain.”
“The trail solved the connection between the (Aspen Business Center) and the Intercept Lot between the river and the road without the need to travel on Highway 82,” Beyer said. “It is a connection which has been requested by the public for years.”
According to Beyer, by county estimates, the potential solution could cost $12 million. Studies are scheduled to begin in 2017.
Beyer added that he felt “a simple trail solution for minimal cost would be accepted as a positive amenity, and I’m sorry the imperfect process has meant the trail had to be removed. It could have been a great trail and in use today.”
According to the report, construction of the bandit route came to light May 13, when Armstrong and Ranger Andy Testo responded to a report of illegal camping on the Airport Ranch Open Space, east of Shale Bluffs. They discovered a well-developed trail that led through an extensive, abandoned camp and continued east, requiring the construction of small retaining walls and three-foot cuts into the slope, according to Armstrong.
Armstrong returned the next day to find four vehicles parked at the gate off Highway 82. He spotted two men carrying “trail-building implements.” The men initially fled, according to Armstrong, and refused to provide their names when they stopped. Armstrong accompanied the duo back to the parking area, where they identified themselves as Benjamin and Nils Koons.
Though no contact was made with Beyer that day, Armstrong said his vehicle was discovered next to the Koons’ at the access point to the trail. The ranger also discovered more tools along the bandit trail. Open Space and Trails later approached Beyer, and an agreement was reached Friday.
Armstrong said a major concern is that the illegal trail goes through an area of heavy elk migration.
“That’s one of the reasons that we require a process before we even consider building a trail in an area,” Armstrong said, reminding outdoor enthusiasts to be patient and work through public process concerning trail improvements.
He said the county has established two major trails — Cozy Line and Airline — in the past year, and another one, Deadline, is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.
The illegal trail was nearing completion when it was discovered, said Armstrong, who estimated that it was ridden once or twice. The trail dead-ended at Shale Bluffs, he said, where a legitimate project would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in engineering and development.
“I believe that there was a feeling that if the trail went that far, we would have to adopt it and we would have to get involved in a very expensive process to complete it, which we were not willing to do,” Armstrong said.
In a statement, Open Space and Trails Assistant Director Gary Tennenbaum said restoring the site to its original condition will take years “since it was built on such a steep and unstable slope.”
“With all of the new trails Pitkin County and its partners are building on Sky Mountain Park, Smuggler and Hunter Creek, it was very disappointing to see an illegal trail built,” he said.