Residents up the Crystal promise to fight new trail | AspenTimes.com

Residents up the Crystal promise to fight new trail

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

More than two dozen Crystal River Valley residents have promised to fight Pitkin County “with all legal means at our disposal” as they seek to block a new trail near Redstone.

The proposed one-mile trail would provide access to a 185-acre parcel of land along the Crystal River – the 135-acre Hot Springs Ranch, plus 50 acres known as Filoha Meadows – recently purchased by Pitkin County as open space. But residents near the proposed trail are protesting development in the pristine area, as well as road improvements that county officials say are necessary for the path.

Nearly 30 residents of the Crystal River Valley turned out for a Wednesday meeting of the Pitkin County commissioners. The crowd did not represent every citizen who is angry about the proposed trail, only those who could get away from work on a weekday, said trail opponent Tom McBrayer.

But those in attendance at yesterday’s meeting were there to ensure that the county “does the right thing,” McBrayer said.

“The right thing in regards to the development of a trail, the right thing regarding environmental impact,” he said, “and the right thing with our tax dollars.”

McBrayer, selected to represent all of the Crystal residents who oppose the trail project, read from a prepared statement yesterday to outline the group’s argument. The proposed trail project, McBrayer argued, “is another example of the county’s policy of buy first and ask questions later.”

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Pitkin County spent $2.6 million to buy the Hot Springs/Filoha area before officials realized it would need a trail to make the purchase worthwhile.

“The fact that the county spent money does not entitle the county to use that expenditure as leverage on future decisions,” McBrayer said, reading from the statement.

If the county continues to insist that it has right to the easement, valley resident will take action, he said.

“We asked to come before you today to put you on notice that unless you cease and desist in these activities, we are prepared to fight you with all legal means at our disposal,” McBrayer read. “We will confront you in the public opinion arena! We will oppose you at the ballot box! We will defy you in the courts!”

The issue at hand, he said, is whether the county has the legal right to a trail easement on the land. However, residents argue that the county’s claimed easement is actually an old stretch of railroad known as Dorias Lane, a private drive.

The county’s investigation of the easement has raised even more questions about the trail project, McBrayer said.

“The issue is not just whether an easement exists, but how county tax money is spent, how county citizens are treated and the county’s plans to devastate what division of wildlife district wildlife manager Kevin Wright called `perhaps the most valuable piece of wildlife habitat in private hands in the Crystal watershed,'” he said. “Is it county policy that every piece of open space property has to have a trail on it? Even at $3 million, leaving Filoha Meadows pristine and free of development is a good deal for taxpayers.”

McBrayer finished his statements with the suggestion that the county build a trail parallel to Highway 133. Nearly 74 percent of people recently surveyed by the Crystal River Caucus support this plan, he said.

Commissioner Shellie Roy argued that the county has looked into the possibility of a trail parallel to the highway, but found there was not enough room to allow both vehicle and trail traffic.

“There are a lot of places where you’re going to have a log jam,” she said.

Opposition to the proposed trail to the Hot Springs/Filoha area left Roy and other commissioners “tongue-tied.”

“We thought we were doing the right thing,” Roy said.

Commissioner Jack Hatfield also defended the work of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board.

“I have not heard or seen any attempt … to try and ram trails down people’s throats,” he said.

Though the county says it has the right to a 100-foot easement to build the proposed trail, Hatfield said it would instead request the smallest area possible.

“A simple easement, which we certainly have a right to, has gotten out of hand,” he explained to the angry group.

Valley resident Ray Pojman intervened as the argument became heated, requesting that county commissioners attend a weekly meeting of the neighborhood association or a meeting of the Crystal River Caucus on Sept. 25. Commissioners were receptive, noting that the two groups needed to open lines of communication in order to resolve the trail issue.

As Wednesday’s argument became heated, both sides acknowledged that future communication was necessary.

“Obviously, this is going to be decided in the courts,” Pojman said of the trail plan.

[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com]

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