Emergency phone in service near Difficult Campground | AspenTimes.com
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Emergency phone in service near Difficult Campground

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times
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ASPEN – A new emergency phone has been installed on Highway 82 below the base of Independence Pass, allowing callers to reach emergency dispatchers in Aspen from an area where cell phone service is spotty.

The call box won’t, however, let travelers coming down Independence Pass stop and phone in dinner reservations.

Neither dispatchers nor county officials were sure just how the phone worked, so it was tested on Friday. After a few tries, first by Cindy Houben, head of the Community Development Department, and then Pat Bingham, community relations specialist, a call was successfully placed to the dispatch center in Aspen, which handles calls for both Aspen police and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.

The call box, located near the entrance to Difficult Campground, on the opposite side of the highway, is served by a land line. A caller picks up the receiver and pushes a button to place an emergency call directly to a dispatcher. The phone is the unusual result of the county’s land-use process.

The owners of four properties, all trying to score sufficient points through the complicated Growth Management Quota System, contributed to the phone project. They were all seeking additional square footage for new homes or, in once case, a home addition.

One of the property owners, longtime resident Bob Oxenberg, who owns a home near the entrance to the campground, offered to install the phone. Many motorists and bicyclists in need of assistance after a mishap on the pass have knocked on his door over the years.

“They’d come to my house to call 911,” Oxenberg said in a press release. “It happened four or five times a year. In fact, one winter night a mother and baby came knocking after their car had slid out of control and ended up precariously hanging half over a cliff. The cell service up here just isn’t that reliable.”

Oxenberg’s neighbors, also looking to score GMQS points, joined the effort by offering to pay the ongoing cost of operating the phone.

The need for an emergency telephone in the neighborhood was identified in the East of Aspen Neighborhood Master Plan, according to Houben. GMQS applicants picked up on the idea and offered it as a community benefit to score points on their applications.

“This was a very innovative offering,” said Lance Clarke, assistant director of Community Development.

Some funding for extension of the East of Aspen Trail, a bike trail the county plans to extend as far as the campground, also came out of the GMQS process, said senior planner Suzanne Wolff.

janet@aspentimes.com


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