Pitkin County acquisition will snuff development in Castle Creek, provide access to open space
A little-visited open space park on the backside of Aspen Mountain will get a big boost after Pitkin County’s approval Wednesday to purchase a nearby mining claim.
The county commissioners voted unanimously to spend $1.25 million to acquire the Cora May lodes 1 and 2 from Tom Barron. The patented mining claims were merged to create a 20.66-acre parcel.
The purchase extinguishes the development rights of a house in excess of 8,000 square feet.
“The development site would be visible from Castle Creek Road,” said a memo to the commissioners from Dale Will, acquisitions manager for the open space program.
The Cora May also has a trail dating to Aspen’s mining era that runs about a half-mile to the existing Stirling Cooper Open Space.
“The Stirling Cooper family has always wanted us to have an easier trail to the Stirling Cooper Open Space,” Will said. The existing access trail, he added, is “terrible.”
The Stirling Cooper Open Space is a delightful piece of ground on the hillside east of Castle Creek Road. The current access to the 54-acre property is via an incredibly steep trail located at a lower switchback on Little Annie Road. The open space gets little use because the access is a tough climb and knee-popping descent.
The property was sold to the county in 2009 by Stirling “Buzz” Cooper. It is named in memory of Stirling Cooper Jr., Buzz’s son and a well-known Aspen native who was killed in a hiking accident in Utah in August 1999.
Buzz Cooper created a loop trail through the property that goes through stands of huge aspen trees and conifer forest and provides glimpses of mine dumps and an old miner’s cabin that became a hippie house in the 1960s and ’70s. There are great views of Castle Creek and the mountains that tower above it.
Hawk Greenway, a former member of the open space board of directors, brought the Cory May property to the attention of the open space program five or so years ago. The county was outbid for the site by Barron in its first effort to purchase it. Barron had the property on the market but reduced the asking price for Pitkin County, according to Will.
Greenway said he was pleased that the sale was finally accomplished.
“This really is just open space doing its job,” Greenway said, noting the program has done a fantastic job limiting development in backcountry areas of Castle Creek Valley.
The work accomplished by the program staff is often taken for granted because many times it results in something not being built in the backcountry, Greenway said. In this case, the house approval gets snuffed as does a large avalanche mitigation wall that the county would have required to access the property.
“It would have been a huge eyesore of a wall,” he said.
The Cora May is located about three-quarters of a mile south of the intersection of Little Annie Road and Castle Creek Road. An existing driveway runs about 300 yards to a flat piece of ground with parking for about five vehicles, according to Will and Greenway.
The old trail heads to the north, northeast to the Stirling Cooper Open Space along a gentle glade.
“It’s a lovely trail,” Will said. “The views of Mount Hayden, it’s just right there in your face.”
Greenway said the Cora May parcel itself has little potential for additional trails because it is so steep.
The purchase expands efforts to keep the general area free of development.
“This property lies adjacent to a contiguous assemblage of private lands heretofore sterilized from development through TDRs (transferable development rights) and open space purchases, contiguous (to) U.S. Forest Service lands,” Wills memo said. “The 647-acre Zurcher property lies above the Cora May Lodes, and was protected by issuance of TDRs.”
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The American Red Cross, founded by Clara Barton, was close to Aspen’s hearts and pocketbooks. Early settlers had experienced it during the Civil War, hence one of Aspen’s early mining claims was named Red Cross.