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Pieces of Aspen history sold in the Ed Smart land auction

When the last pieces of Ed Smart’s estate were sold in an auction in Glenwood Springs Jan. 29, it attracted speculators, Pitkin County government and a history buff or two.

Twenty property lots, including numerous patented mining claims that were bundled together, were sold for Smart’s estate by Auction Boulevard in Glenwood Springs.

The Aspen and Pitkin County open space programs paid $34,000 to secure the mineral rights under property they previously purchased on Smuggler Mountain. Mineral rights are often owned separately from surface rights in Colorado.

Pitkin County Open Space and Trails also tried to buy Smart’s interests in a cluster of five mining claims in the Hurricane Gulch area on the backside of Aspen Mountain, according to Executive Director Dale Will. The county was interested in the purchase because it is trying to establish access to the Sterling Cooper Open Space off of Little Annie Road, Will said.

The five mining claims that were sold — the Climax, Howard Russell, Idlewild, Picnic and Wilmington — are north of the Sterling Cooper Open Space, Will said. He was authorized to spend as much as $15,000 for the mining claims. “We were outbid,” he said.

John Miller, who owns significant property on the backside of Aspen Mountain through Castle Creek Investors Inc., paid $32,500 for Smart’s share of the five claims.

O.J. Pratt, owner of Auction Boulevard, said the five patented mining claims as well as other lots are a jumble of ownership, which made some potential buyers wary. “‘A bag of snakes,’ we call that in the south,” he said.

Mining-claim interests were divided up as soon as Aspen was established as a mining camp in the 1870s. Prospectors who were rich in dreams but poor in resources would often trade property for capital or materials. The divided interests were handed down to future buyers or interests were fractured further during Aspen’s Quiet Years, then during the boom time as a ski resort.

The Climax mining claim is a good example of the wiggling bag of snakes. Smart owned 3⁄16 of the 10.33 acres of surface area, according to property records at the Pitkin County Assessor’s Office. The Climax Mining and Milling Co. Inc. owns 7⁄16 of the surface rights. Miller’s Castle Creek Investors owned the remaining 3⁄8 of the surface rights.

Ownership of the Howard Russell, Idlewild, Picnic and Wilmington were similarly fractured, the assessor’s records show.

Smart was a larger-than-life figure who dabbled extensively in the Byzantine world of mining claim wheeling and dealing. In the late 1980s, he bestowed unpatented mining claims in the Van Horn Park area north of Aspen to Aspen’s volunteer firefighters. Smart, who died in May 2012, was friends with John Wayne, and they were partners in mining ventures in the Aspen area. Smart lived for years in a cabin along Midnight Mine Road before moving to Bluff, Utah.

Miller said he bid on the Climax cluster to boost his ownership of the five patented mining claims beyond 50 percent. He is on good terms with the other owners, who he said are from San Antonio. Miller’s goal is to sell transferable development rights off the property. Those rights can be purchased by landowners in “receiving areas” — generally close to the Aspen metro area — to increase house sizes. The sale of transferable development rights needs to be supported by 100 percent of the ownership, so narrowing the number of owners makes the goal easier.

Miller said there are two cabins on the Climax cluster of mining claims, but most of the property is too steep for future development. It also is limited by rural and remote zoning, used by Pitkin County to limit house sizes and services in the backcountry.

Miller also bid at the Smart auction on the Hercules patented mining claim on the backside of Aspen Mountain. Castle Creek Investors already owned 50 percent of the surface rights. He was outbid. Pratt said an online bidder monitoring the auction paid $80,000 for a one-half interest in the Hercules. That was the highest bid for any property in the auction, according to Pratt. Miller said he doesn’t know the buyer or the person’s intent.

Smart’s estate also offered numerous unpatented mining claims, which come with very limited rights. They cannot be patented or converted into private ownership. They remain owned by the federal government, but the holder can work the property.

The John Wayne Tunnel was among the unpatented offerings. Miller said it sold for $150. It was supposed to come with a framed photo of Smart and John Wayne that was signed by Wayne. That likely enticed the bidder, Miller said, but the photo didn’t appear at the auction.

Pratt said he couldn’t disclose the buyers of the 20 properties because the sales haven’t been completed.

“We sold all of them,” Pratt said.

Miller said it was his understanding that some of the properties, particularly the unpatented mining claims, didn’t sell.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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