It’s no longer Grant’s cabin, so what is it?
Nobody knows what will become of Grant’s cabin, but one thing’s for sure: This winter, groups of friends aren’t gathering around the cabin’s potbelly stove or sitting on the deck watching sunsets and barbecuing on Friday evenings.Grant’s cabin, as it’s known, sits on the backside of Aspen Mountain, just a short walk from the top of the Silver Queen gondola on Richmond Ridge. Up until this winter, it served as a gathering place for hundreds of locals who enjoyed a 17-year tradition of backcountry skiing, beers, hot dogs and sunsets. Now the cabin sits, quietly boarded up – the symbol of a more relaxed Aspen that’s gradually disappearing.Grant Timroth built the 400-square-foot structure in 1988, the same year he bought what he thought was legal title to a 2.2-acre mining claim called Twilight Lode. In 2004, the state Supreme Court decided the land belonged to Pitkin County, and last August, the county evicted Grant and Kristin Timroth from the land. Now the cabin’s fate remains in the hands of the county commissioners.Commissioner Patti Clapper said she had hoped to discuss the issue by now, but an overhaul of the county land-use code will prevent them from addressing Grant’s cabin for the next couple of months. Commissioner Mick Ireland said they won’t do anything with the cabin this winter, and there’s no rush to make a decision since the cabin can’t be used until it’s brought up to code. Upgrades and renovations wouldn’t take place until the summer anyway.”We’ve kind of been dragging our feet, but we’re trying to get it right,” Clapper said. “It’s hard to understand how much we have to look at for something so simple.”Along with the myriad possibilities for the land’s use – from selling it for residential development to doing nothing with it – the commissioners face outrage from community members who see the cabin as their little piece of paradise. In an August letter to the editor, Jim Perry went so far as to say that in the days of the mining boom, the county’s action to recover the land would have been called a claim jump.
But now that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the county, all five of the commissioners have different ideas on how to best use the land, Clapper said. And to add more opinions to the mix, Commissioner Michael Owsley would like to see a citizens’ committee research possibilities.”I don’t think I’m capable of coming up with a good idea,” Owsley said. “I can choose among good ideas.”Ireland hopes to solicit proposals from various outdoor groups to see which could create the greatest public benefit from the land. He said there has been talk of groups such as PowderToThePeople.org or the 10th Mountain Division hut system using the land for nonprofit public purposes.Mike Sladdin, a member of PowderToThePeople.org, wouldn’t mind using the cabin as an office and a gateway to the backcountry. The group comprises about 30 people who ride snowmobiles to ski the backcountry. He’d like to share the cabin with other outdoor groups, which is fortunate, because Owsley doesn’t want just one group to use it.”How would I justify turning the cabin over to PowderToThePeople? That’s not very attractive,” Owsley said, adding that he would consider a proposal that would benefit Pitkin County residents.Clapper wants to see the land used, but only if it’s in a fair and responsible way.”I wish it could be for public use, but it can’t be because of liability issues and booking,” Clapper said. Owsley and Ireland added that they don’t foresee the county managing the cabin or putting a lot of money into it.Last summer, letters to the editor poured in, urging commissioners to negotiate a lease with the Timroths. The Timroths opened their cabin to anyone – even a friend of a friend who had a friend who thought he knew Grant, said Kristin Timroth.”We always joked that if the commissioners came by, they were welcome to a beer and a hot dog too,” she said. “We shared what we had, and now it’s gone, and it’s really sad.”
When Grant Timroth bought the land in January 1988, he didn’t envision the social scene it would create. He bought it to build a cabin and hang out with snowmobile buddies, but its reputation as the place to be on Friday afternoons grew through word-of-mouth. The Timroths often let friends and acquaintances use the rustic cabin for romantic birthdays or anniversaries.”It was a pretty solid group of locals, people that grew up here,” said Sladdin, who has used the cabin throughout the last six years. “There was history there. It gave us a good place to relax and unwind. It was just another day at snow beach.”The Timroths never thought they’d lose the cabin; it never crossed Grant Timroth’s mind that the deed he bought wasn’t legitimate, Kristin said. He purchased it from Eagle County resident Tyrone Thompson on a special warranty deed, which means the owner only guarantees that he didn’t do anything to affect the title; it doesn’t guarantee he actually holds the title.”Back then, it was a poor man’s way to get into a cabin that we knew we’d never sell,” she said.The confusion over the mining claim dates back to the 1893 silver crash, when miners abandoned their land and skipped out on property taxes. State guidelines gave counties authority to sell land with delinquent taxes, and in 1908 Pitkin County tried to sell the Twilight Lode, but no one ponied up, so the county held the lien.In 1964, a treasurer’s deed was issued to the county. When the county tried to include the Twilight Lode in a land swap with the U.S. Forest Service in 1994, the Forest Service wouldn’t accept the land because it was hard to prove county ownership. In 2001, Grant Timroth sued the county, saying that because the county didn’t hold the tax sale as mandated by state criteria, the treasurer’s deed was invalid. Timroth lost, but in 2002 the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed Pitkin County District Judge Thomas Ossola’s ruling. The county appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, which ruled in the county’s favor in 2004.”When [Timroth] bought the deed, people issued deeds based on squat,” Ireland said, adding that the county’s means of obtaining the title was flawed but not invalid.
The Timroths would like to remove the cabin from the land, but according to the law of fixtures, which is hundreds of years old, any improvement someone makes to an owner’s land belongs to the owner, which, in this case, is the county, Ireland said.”Over the last 17 years, if you spread it out, our [financial] loss isn’t that great,” Kristin Timroth said, adding they spent much more in legal fees than they did on the land and the cabin. “It’s more the loss of the camaraderie. Now it’s ruined because you can’t go back.”She said she doesn’t want to be involved in the re-envisioning of the land “because it’s exhausting at this point.”But talk of selling the land to a private owner for a multimillion-dollar home that would replace a cabin without running water or electricity disgusts her. While Ireland said there may be some sentiment for commissioners to sell the land for a private residence, the county has consistently tried to protect the backcountry from such impact.However, Owsley doesn’t consider the land rural and remote, which commissioners have historically protected.”It’s ski industrial,” Owsley said. “There’s significant development, so it’s not something sacrosanct.”Currently, the county assessor’s office values the 2.2 acres at $33,000. As one option, Owsley suggested the county could sell the land and use the proceeds to build affordable housing.”It’s not unusual for us to divest of properties and use the proceeds for affordable housing,” he said.
There also has been talk of Aspen Skiing Co. eyeing the property for powder tours, though spokesperson Jeff Hanle could not be reached for comment. And Clapper thinks selling the land to the Skico would be tough for the community to swallow. Ireland agrees.”I’d like to see that that cabin accommodate people who can’t pay for the ski tour,” Ireland said. “Nothing against the Skico. There’s just plenty of high-ticket items out there.”Kimberly Nicoletti’s e-mail address is email@example.com