Cookhouse crowds clog Castle Creek Valley |

Cookhouse crowds clog Castle Creek Valley

Naomi Havlen

Business is booming at the Pine Creek Cookhouse up the Castle Creek Valley, but that’s not good news for everyone.It’s good for Pine Creek Cookhouse owner John Wilcox, who appeared in front of the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners on Wednesday to request that any second seatings during the busiest times of the year not be considered a special event. One seating at his ski- and sleigh-in restaurant holds 75 people; Wilcox said his business can easily support one more seating per night.The Cookhouse is located 12 miles up Castle Creek Road. The road is closed to accommodate nordic skiers and sleigh rides about a mile before the restaurant, right next to Ashcroft Ghost Town and the Toklat Art Gallery.That creates a problem for Lynne Mace, who runs Toklat near Ashcroft Ski Touring’s cross-country ski center, she says. Mace says traffic and parking along Castle Creek Road is a headache. She presented a photo of vehicles parked along the shoulder of the road to the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners on Wednesday.The photo Mace showed the board was taken on Thanksgiving Day.”There’s no traffic management there,” she told the board.Wilcox says the restaurant has had two seatings during its peak season throughout its history. The restaurant has been operating since 1971 and owned by Wilcox since 1986. In April 2003 the original building burned down, and Wilcox rebuilt the restaurant.The new structure has more seating and has been drawing a hearty crowd of nordic skiers and sleigh riders so far this winter.Of course, when the traffic is heavy at the Pine Creek Cookhouse, it generally means that there are a lot of visitors checking out the offerings at Toklat. Mace, however, noted that her family has always been stewards of the land above being business people.”Business has been better for us, too, but there should be a limit to how much one ramps up one’s business without damaging what we have,” Mace said after the meeting. “That’s been my family’s philosophy for years.”The commissioners agreed to allow two seatings at the restaurant, but they are limiting those heavier traffic days to 30 this winter. If Wilcox finds that he’s run out of those days and needs more, he can come back to the board to request more, Commissioner Dorothea Farris said.They agreed that the traffic issues in the upper Castle Creek Valley must be looked into, although Mace said she doubts much will get done.”I agree that there are probably times when it’s useful for them to have two seatings, but not for 150 people,” Mace said. “It’s equally important to support the businesses, as it is to protect the rural nature of our beautiful valley.”Mace’s parents, Stuart and Isabel Mace, built Toklat in 1948. They offered dog sledding and turned the building, their home, into an art gallery.Toklat Art Gallery will close next spring after the Aspen Center for Environmental Education purchases the property for an interpretive nature center. The gallery will be moved to Basalt.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is