Settlement will allow continued public use of Verena Mallory Trail on Aspen’s Smuggler Mtn |

Settlement will allow continued public use of Verena Mallory Trail on Aspen’s Smuggler Mtn

Staff report
A mountain biker prepares to negotiate a switchback on the Verena Mallory Trail in a photo taken fall 2014.
Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association

A settlement is being worked out that will allow the public to continue using the Verena Mallory Trail on the shoulder of Smuggler Mountain, according to Aspen Valley Land Trust.

The use of the trail has been at the center of a lawsuit filed by a citizens’ group against AVLT. The land conservation group contended that the trail must be closed and reclaimed due to conditions of the property being given to it by Fritz and Fabi Benedict. The deeds that conveyed the property said trails were prohibited.

However, trail proponents claimed that closure would go against the wishes of the late Fritz Benedict, who commissioned the trail’s construction in 1991. Benedict saw the quarter-mile alternate trail as a way to make the south access route into Hunter Creek Valley more user-friendly. He made the decision during a community fight over access to Hunter Creek.

AVLT didn’t restrict use of the short, jug-handle trail for 23 years but discovered key wording in the deed during a standard review in 2015. The land trust announced its intention to close the route.

Friends of Verena Mallory Trail Association Inc. filed its lawsuit in August 2015 asking a judge to declare Benedict didn’t intend for the existing trail to be closed.

The dispute didn’t affect the Verena Mallory Park adjacent to the trail.

The parties have reached a settlement that involves the city of Aspen and Pitkin County.

“Through the settlement process, AVLT has agreed to grant a trail easement to the city and County over the Verena Mallory Trail that will effectively grandfather in the trail that has been in place since the early ‘90s,” said a statement from AVLT. “The County and City will hopefully agree to maintain the trail, and the land trust will retain ownership of the Park and the right to oversee management of the trail to ensure that impacts to the Park are minimized.”

No new trails will be allowed on the park.

The statement from AVLT Executive Director Suzanne Stephens said the organization’s position has been that it is obligated to uphold the wording in the deed.

“However, we are agreeing to grant an easement for this trail based on the fact that this trail has been in the public domain for so long, with a strong case for a prescriptive easement,” AVLT’s statement said. “After exploring our legal options, we feel this is the best way forward for all sides.”

The trail is named in memory of Verena Mallory, an Aspen girl who died at a young age from leukemia.