Effort to close Hunter Creek road falls short
A last-gasp effort by Tom McCloskey and Red Mountain Ranch homeowners to block public use of the north road into the Hunter Creek Valley was snuffed Tuesday by a federal judge.
But the homeowners did secure a bit of relief from U.S. District Judge Zita Weinshienk’s ruling. They won’t have to tear down their homes to accommodate the public route.
This latest order appears to exhaust any further proceedings at the U.S. District Court level after 13 years of legal wrangling. What’s unknown is whether the homeowners will attempt to get the case heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals.
McCloskey and his neighbors filed their first lawsuit to block public use of the north road into Hunter Creek on Christmas Eve 1988.
The dispute started the year before, when Tom and Bonnie McCloskey built their 15,000-square-foot home on the north road and claimed it was private. They said the public could use the south road into the Hunter Creek Valley for access to the national forest.
A citizens’ group called Friends of Hunter Creek lobbied the Pitkin County Commissioners to defend the public’s use of the north road as well as the south route. Hunter Creek Valley is one of Aspen’s most popular playgrounds for hikers and cyclists.
After a decade of legal sparring between the sides, Judge Weinshienk ruled in February 1998 that Upper Hunter Creek Road was owned by the public and couldn’t be closed by the McCloskeys, adjacent homeowner Gerald Hosier and the Red Mountain Ranch Homeowners Association.
Since 1998, both sides have sought clarification of the ruling. Red Mountain Ranch contended that the ruling pertained only to the Upper Hunter Creek Road and not the Lower Hunter Creek Road, which goes through its high-class subdivision.
Weinshienk rejected that interpretation.
“While Red Mountain Ranch appears to accept that Upper Hunter Creek is now public … they do not suggest any feasible means for public traffic to access Upper Hunter Creek Road itself,” Weinshienk wrote on May 14. “Without using Lower Hunter Creek Road to get to Upper Hunter Creek Road, the intent of the Court’s Feb. 6, 1998, order and judgment would be frustrated.”
The judge also decided in favor of Pitkin County and the Friends of Hunter Creek by concluding the public road comes with a 60-foot right of way, with some exceptions. She said several homes have been built within the 60-foot easement on the Upper Hunter Creek Road and perhaps the lower road. In those cases, the homes can stay, and the public must accept a narrower right of way, Weinshienk ruled.
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