A dad’s wish granted to honor his son with park on back of Aspen Mountain

Stirling "Buzz" Cooper unveils a sign Sept. 4, 2016, dedicating open space on the back of Aspen Mountain to his son, Stirling Cooper Jr.
Cooper family/courtesy family |

Aspen native Stirling “Buzz” Cooper received the best 85th birthday present possible earlier this month when a Pitkin County open space property was dedicated in memory of his son.

The 54-acre Stirling Cooper Open Space on the backside of Aspen Mountain was formally recognized Sept. 4 with the unveiling of a sign honoring Stirling Cooper Jr., a popular Aspen resident who died in a tragic hiking accident in Utah on Aug. 28, 1999.

The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program had the sign made and secretly installed it along a trail on the property in late August.

Buzz’s family hiked with him to the site under the pretense of celebrating Buzz’s birthday, which is Sept. 6. Susan Woods, Buzz’s stepdaughter, reported that 14 family members and friends traveled from throughout Colorado and from Phoenix for the occasion. Part of the group hiked the steep trail with Buzz to a point where a tail joins with a loop.

“Another group of family and friends was waiting at the top of the trail to greet Buzz and watch him unveil the sign,” Woods said. “Buzz was quite overwhelmed by the surprise.”

It culminated years of work by Buzz on the Stirling Wilderness Trail dedicated to his son. The trail crosses a combination of unpatented mining claims, patented mining claims the Cooper family sold to Pitkin County in 2009, and national forest. When Buzz sold the property to Pitkin County, he reserved the right to work on the trail.

For the first three summers, he spent parts of 100 days using tools to scratch a path through dirt and rock, following old game trails and, for a short distance, an old mining road. Despite the physical challenges encountered in his 80s, he has dutifully maintained the trail by clearing brush and weeds.

He always wanted some formal recognition of the open space in memory of his son. His family helped make it happen. Woods said relatives reached out to Pitkin County Open Space with the request for a sign, at the family’s expense.

Dale Will and Ted O’Brien of open space added the Cooper sign to an order that was already placed. They also had it installed at the border of open space and national forest, as the family requested.

Buzz said he didn’t suspect anything with the sign when he hiked up the steep trail from a trailhead on Little Annie Road. He became suspicious when more family members were waiting to greet them.

Once the hikers caught their breath, they had Buzz unveil the sign, which says “Stirling Cooper Open Space.”

Buzz said the sign pleases him and is a fitting tribute to his son.

“It’s just an honor of his love of the outdoors,” he said.