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Aspen Times aids blunder

Public access to Hunter Creek was back on front pages of The Aspen Times again (May 22). Unfortunately, The Aspen Times still doesn’t get it right.

Opening the McCloskey property for hiker/biker access into Hunter Creek Valley was never the key issue – the key issue is and always was preventing motor access to the valley through the McCloskey property.

For a newspaper that is usually on the right side of environmental issues, it is a wonder to me that The Aspen Times still hasn’t explained this to the public. This blunder, an error aided and abetted by the Times, has so far cost the Aspen/Pitkin public well over $2,600,000.

To understand this blunder, we need to know that the U.S. Mining Act of 1872, a law still in force, allows any kind of development on a mining claim in a National Forest, provided road access is available.

This means that the still-existing mining claims in Hunter Creek Valley could be developed for mega-homes if there were legal road access. So, when a court ruled that a public road, one open to cars and trucks, ran through the McCloskey property, the owners of the Hummingbird mining claim announced they would build a mega-home in the valley.

Most of us rightly viewed this as a desecration of the valley, and as a result the Aspen/Pitkin taxpayers and private donors anteed up $2,600,000 to buy their mining claim, a mining claim that the owners had purchased not long before for only $15,000. In addition Pitkin County has incurred massive legal expenses in the 17-year-old suits and countersuits over the McCloskey access.

This drive to open Hunter Creek Valley to cars and trucks was spearheaded by an outfit called “The Friends of Hunter Creek,” most of whose members were badly misguided, not understanding what they were doing.

However, a small group of their members, I am convinced, understood perfectly what they were doing and stood to profit enormously if the court declared the McCloskey route a public road.

All of us want easy hiker mountain-biker/trail-rider access to Hunter Creek Valley, a superb wilderness that lies right at Aspen’s doorstep. However, there are five public routes to Hunter Creek Valley including the McCloskey access, though I’ve never seen this mentioned in the Times.

I recently heard that the McCloskeys had constructed a new road through their property in order to settle this 17-year-old lawsuit and still give public access to the valley. After inspecting this new road, I can agree with their claim that it is more scenic and safer than the old road. Unfortunately, The Times has not represented these facts to the public, and is hampering the settlement process by its actions.

Remember that the McCloskey access is only one of the five public trailheads to Hunter Creek Valley. Let us end these multimillion-dollar blunders and these 17 years of lawsuits by accepting their offer, while making sure that the courts or Pitkin County will limit motor access to this superb wilderness.

Lawrence Ladin

Snowmass Village


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