Community service, and plenty of it, for drive on wetlands |

Community service, and plenty of it, for drive on wetlands

Jeremy Heiman

An Aspen man was sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service last week for intentionally damaging a wetland on Smuggler Mountain in August.

Kent J. Muer appeared in federal court in Grand Junction Tuesday before Magistrate Judge James Robb. He was represented by an attorney and pleaded guilty to the charges.

U.S. Forest Service recreation specialist Andy Steele said Muer will be required to pay $436 in restitution for the rehabilitation of the wetland, in addition to the community service, for operating a vehicle off road and disturbing vegetation.

Muer was also cited for not having a valid operator’s license and not having his vehicle registered. He was fined $60 for each of those two offenses.

Steele said the Forest Service had photographs taken by a citizen and had a statement confirming that Muer was driving when the violation occurred. “We had a witness that actually talked to the driver,” he said.

On Aug. 28, Muer drove what Steele described as “a really tricked-out Jeep” through a wet meadow just off Smuggler Mountain Road, about one mile short of the closure gate at Warren Lakes, spinning the vehicle intentionally and churning up mud. His vehicle got stuck in the mud, and he returned two days later with a group of people to help retrieve it.

Muer was driving his own vehicle, but the vehicle was not registered and had not been since 1997. Muer’s driver’s license was revoked at the time of the incident. He has no record of prior violations with the Forest Service.

Forestry Technician Ron Barr investigated the violations and issued the citations, Steele said. Forest Service officials presented the case for the prosecution, assisted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Wallace.

Muer’s community service will involve working with the Forest Service to develop a presentation on responsible four-wheeling and other mechanized travel in the backcountry. He will be working with Barr on the project, Steele said.

The Aspen Ranger District will increase its efforts to reduce the number of trespassing incidents on National Forest lands, Steel said.

“We’ve had too many people using the National Forest as a residence and driving vehicles off road,” he said. “We’ve had some damage by off-roaders taking down signs.”

He said Forest Service employees will be cooperating with a citizen committee called the Hunter Creek Task Force in the effort. The task force was first convened to advise Pitkin County in developing regulations for roads, trails and land in the Hunter Creek and Smuggler Mountain area.

“Our direction is to help the public learn to tread lightly,” Steele said.

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