Aspen conservation champion says Hunter Creek purchase critically important |

Aspen conservation champion says Hunter Creek purchase critically important

This shot from summer 2015 shows the stunning views from the high country north of Hunter Creek Valley. The open space program plans to make its fourth purchase of mining claims to keep the area undeveloped.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times |

After working for nearly 30 years to prevent development on pockets of private land in Hunter Creek Valley, Aspenite Tim McFlynn imagined the worst last year when he learned a 10-acre, privately owned mining claim had surfaced.

A Silverthorne man had tracked down heirs of the owners and bought enough interests in the fractionalized property to gain title in a federal lawsuit. The intentions of Robert Small, the new owner, were unknown. McFlynn and others feared the 10.4-acre property would end up listed for sale and be snatched up by a buyer looking for a trophy site secluded deep in the White River National Forest.

Pitkin County’s Rural and Remote Zoning would restrict development to a small cabin rather than a mansion. However, the county couldn’t have prevented year-round, motorized access.

Motorized mayhem

McFlynn said he could imagine Super Bowl parties where 50 people would shatter the winter tranquility while traveling by snowmobile and snowcat to the site 3 miles east of the U.S. Forest Service boundary. Fourth of July gatherings would result in packs of RZRs and other off-road vehicles ripping up and down the forest road.

The White River National Forest Travel Management Plan prohibits motorized travel in Hunter Creek Valley except during hunting season. Property owners and their guests would be largely exempt from the restriction.

“I knew that inholding and I knew how special it would be as a rural and remote cabin,” said McFlynn, who was an attorney representing a citizens’ group called Friends of Hunter Creek in a 1980s and early 1990s battle for access to the public lands. McFlynn also has been on the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program’s board of directors since 2005. He supported prior efforts to buy out inholdings of private land surrounded by national forest in Hunter Creek.

McFlynn said the open space board and county commissioners discussed trying to buy the Rolland and Mamie in executive sessions.

“We received strong direction six months ago to get this done,” he said.

Millions spent on preservation

The problem was, Small ignored all of the efforts of the open space staff to talk about the parcel, McFlynn said. They received no reaction to phone calls, emails or certified letters.

Pitkin County government and the community had already spent millions of dollars to preserve Hunter Creek Valley. The county and city of Aspen headed a community fundraiser in 1998 to purchase the Hummingbird mining claim for $2.5 million. Unlike the Rolland and Mamie, it wasn’t restricted to a small cabin.

In 2004, the county open space program acquired the Little Chief patented mining claim from Lyle Reeder. It acquired the Virginia Pet patented mining claim from the Mohrman family in 2009. Patented mining claims give the owner surface development rights.

With the purchase of the Virginia Pet, Pitkin County officials believed they had acquired the last private inholding in Hunter Creek Valley — the large swath of land between Aspen and the 82,000-acre-plus Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness.

All the work to preserve access and prevent development to Hunter Creek would have “absolutely” been tarnished if the Rolland and Mamie were sold, “not because of the cabin but because of the access,” McFlynn said.

“My sense of that valley is it’s a magical place,” McFlynn said. It was the “soul” of Aspen because it’s where children used to learn to hunt, fish and camp during “The Quiet Years” after silver declined and the town was on life support, he said. After Aspen’s re-creation as a resort, the valley has become Aspen’s backyard because of its hiking and biking opportunities, he noted.

Therefore, it was critical that the county act to prevent development of the Rolland and Mamie.

Under contract for $1.3 million

Small finally broke his silence and approached the county about a sale. It’s fortunate that he didn’t list it with a real estate company and open the bidding, McFlynn said.

The county has a contract to buy the land for $1.3 million. That could increase to $1.5 million if the county commissioners choose to buy out a transferable development right associated with the property. That transferable development right can be sold to a property owner trying to increase the size of a house elsewhere in the county.

McFlynn said he believes the preservation will be remembered as one of the most successful land-conservation initiatives of the open space program, along with preservation of agricultural lands in Emma.

“What a gift to have that between Aspen and wilderness,” he said.

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