County tags couple over access rights
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Tom and Bonnie McCloskey have been red tagged again.
The couple received Pitkin County’s equivalent of a cease-and-desist order yesterday in connection with a big pile of dirt that is blocking the county road into Hunter Creek that crosses their property.
It is the latest in a long series of attempts by the couple to thwart access to the popular wilderness area via the so-called north road, accessed off Red Mountain Road.
“We were notified of it [Tuesday],” said Brian Pettet, the county’s director of public works. “The public takes any actions in Hunter Creek personally, so we hear about things that happen right away.”
It is still possible to access Hunter Creek via an alternative route that runs parallel to the county road, but it is a private road owned by the McCloskeys. County officials have said over the years they will fight to keep the traditional route open until the couple gives the public ownership of the alternative.
The red tag means Tom and Bonnie and their employees are not allowed to pile anymore dirt in the right of way and must contact the county to discuss a removal plan. Failure to comply could result in fines.
Although it appears that the dirt could be removed easily, Pettet said the McCloskeys need to contact his department before doing anything.
“How they think it should be fixed may not be the way the county thinks it should be fixed,” he said.
The McCloskeys have been at odds with the county, the U.S. Forest Service and many of the upper valley’s outdoor enthusiasts since 1987, when they bought their land and closed the north road, which intersects with Red Mountain Road near the Peak House.
Initially, the McCloskeys were met by a firestorm of public anger. Scores of hikers and mountain bikers picketed and even occupied the McCloskey property in protest. There were even suggestions by a public official that the McCloskeys would be better off dead.
The road was soon reopened, and the case went to court. A federal district judge ruled about 12 years later that the county in fact owned the road through the McCloskey property.
Two years ago, the McCloskeys completed an alternative access that routes people away from their home, which they built about 50 feet from the county right of way.
After completing the alternative route, the McCloskeys planted grass seed in the public road, extending a meadow they own across the right of way. The county red tagged the McCloskeys that summer, ordering them to remove signs that claimed the public road was a private driveway and cease their effort to convert the road into meadow.
Pettet said red tags aren’t issued very often. But lately, they’ve been used about once every other month. A few people, including the McCloskeys, tend to be red tagged on a semiregular basis.
It was clear in yesterday’s interview that Pettet has grown tired of having to deal with the McCloskeys.
“It’s time to take care of Hunter Creek access issues and move on to something else,” he said.
Tom McCloskey did not return a message asking for comment.
[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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