Injunction sought in Aspen trail dispute
The second salvo has been fired in the fight over the Verena Mallory Trail on Smuggler Mountain.
A group of trail users called the Friends of the Verena Mallory Trail Association Inc. filed a motion for preliminary injunction Friday to prevent the trail from being closed until litigation is settled. The group filed a lawsuit earlier in the week against Aspen Valley Land Trust over its plan to close the trail this month.
Fritz and Fabi Benedict donated land on Smuggler Mountain after Fritz’ death to the land trust in 1992. The property included a trail that Fritz created the prior year. The land trust said its review of the property deed last year required that no new trails or roads be constructed and any existing routes be eliminated. Martha Cochran, executive director of the respected land trust, said the organization must enforce conditions of its gifts to maintain credibility.
The trail became a popular branch off the South Hunter Creek Trail over the past 24 years. It is a jug handle-shaped route that allows users to avoid a steep, rocky section of the Hunter Creek Trail. The trail was dedicated in memory of Verena Mallory, a young Aspen girl who died of leukemia.
The Friends of the Verena Mallory Trail Association contend in their lawsuit that Benedict’s intent was to let the public use the trail since he completed it just a short time before donating the property. Since the long-term status of the trail has to be settled in court, the user group wants a preliminary injunction granted.
“AVLT plans not just to close the trail but also to reclaim it,” the motion for the preliminary injunction said. “If AVLT is permitted to begin reclamation efforts during the pendency of the litigation, there will be no trail to protect and Friends’ eventual success at trial will be irrelevant.”
On the other hand, the motion said, the land trust won’t suffer any harm if the injunction is granted.
“At no time has any heir or successor of the donor come forward to challenge AVLT’s stewardship of the park parcel or to contest the use and existence of the trail; AVLT’s independent review of the deeds spurred this controversy,” the motion says.
Chris Bryan of Garfield & Hecht is representing the Friends pro bono.
The Aspen Valley Land Trust’s attorney, the Matthew C. Ferguson Law Firm, has indicated it will challenge the preliminary injunction request, the motion said.
A temporary restraining order sought by the Friends of the Verena Mallory Trail was denied by a judge earlier this week. That won’t necessarily have any bearing on a different judge’s consideration of a request for a preliminary injunction.
The land trust hasn’t closed the trail yet but is making preparations.