Development still a threat on Smuggler
ASPEN Although local governments have preserved much of the face of Smuggler Mountain, there are at least 35 acres that might sprout a house or two.”Our desire and our purpose for our involvement in that property is to develop it,” said Denver-based attorney John Fognani, who represents the owner of a 35-acre parcel near the observation deck that is a popular stopping point for hikers and mountain bikers on Smuggler Mountain Road. Smuggler, rising up on Aspen’s northeast flank, is a heavily used recreational area in itself, but it also provides access into the Hunter Creek Valley, another popular playground.Fognani would not comment further on his client’s plans for the property, saying he refused to try the case in the press.”Our goal is to preserve all of Smuggler Mountain,” said Dale Will, director of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails. And while Pitkin County commissioners recently approved the purchase of the four-acre Last Chance mining claim adjacent to the observation deck (final approval requires the go-ahead from the Aspen City Council), the Flanigan parcel remains in private hands, Will said.”We were actively trying to acquire interests on Smuggler Mountain to limit and avoid the development up there,” said Rick Neiley, Aspen lawyer and a former member of the county Open Space and Trails board. But the board ran into a snag trying to secure the title to the Flanigan property, Neiley said, and the land went into private hands.Mickie Flanigan sold the property to Summerlin Properties LLC for $1.45 million on Nov. 7, and on the same day Summerlin sold the 35 acres to Hong Kong-based Investlink Enterprise Inc. for the same price, according to documents at the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder’s Office.The Flanigan parcel is zoned rural and remote, which limits developers to building a small, rustic cabin, Neiley said.Since the 2005 purchase of 170 acres from George “Wilk” Wilkinson, city and county open space officials have been working hard to fill in what Will called “doughnut holes” on Smuggler Mountain.But though there was heated debate between local officials and Wilkinson over transferring title of Wilk’s holdings, Will said things worked out well in the end. He cited the recent legal battle over open space near Telluride, a fight that resulted in the condemnation of some land.”In the end, we shook hands, and there was never any litigation,” Will said.Wilkinson died last year. A memorial service is planned Thursday on Smuggler.Securing smugglerOpen space officials also are busy drafting an interim plan to manage the newly acquired property and said it is the first step in developing a long-range master plan for the area.More than 20 acres, including Wilkinson’s compound and a number of trailer sites, are closed to the public, according to Stephen Ellsperman, the city’s parks and open space director. “There are a lot of mines in that area,” Ellsperman said, but he stressed that there are a number of safe hiking and biking routes mapped through the area, and the planning process won’t mean any major changes in Smuggler’s trail routes.”We have one bandit trail that’s new since we purchased the property,” said Gary Tennenbaum, land steward for the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program.Tennenbaum said open space officials are trying to discourage people from routing bandit trails, which often go through dangerous areas or wetlands.”We’d rather keep it closed and keep people away from the hazards. We’re going to eventually open it all back up,” Tennenbaum said. “If we’re going to restore it, we don’t want people impacting it.””We have to basically find out what the situation is up there before we can make any intelligent decisions about where to go next,” Will said, adding that there are sensitive habitats and historical resources important to preserve.The planning process will ensure safe access to public lands on the mountain and will make sure that none of the natural or historic treasures, such as certain mines, are lost, Will said.”The good thing is that most of the recreational demand we have is for the use of the main road. On a busy weekend we have upwards of 500 people per day going up and down that road,” Will said. He said the public, including groups such as mountain bikers and off-road drivers, will be able to weigh in on the future master planning process on Smuggler Mountain.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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