Pitkin County: Its history, government and demographics | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County: Its history, government and demographics

Aspen Times Staff Report
Aspen, CO Colorado

PITKIN COUNTY ” Pitkin County is a playground for all those who live and visit here.

Surrounded by the spectacular peaks of the Elk Range in the northern Rocky Mountains, Pitkin County includes the communities of Aspen, Snowmass Village, Woody Creek, Old Snowmass, part of the town of Basalt, the town of Redstone in the Crystal River Valley south of Carbondale, and, in the upper Fryingpan River Valley, the tiny enclaves of Meredith and Thomasville.

It has its own airport, four ski areas, and hundreds of miles of trails and open space in the surrounding White River National Forest.

Pitkin County is best known for its four world-class ski resorts: Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass. Tourism is the mainstay of the local economy with arts, cultural and recreational events an attraction year-round. The area also is rich in mining and ranching history. Pitkin County Open Space and Trails protects and maintains nearly 9,000 acres of the county’s most coveted undeveloped property and ranchland.

Highway 82 is the only major roadway in Pitkin County leading into and out of Aspen via I-70 at Glenwood Springs to the north and over 12,000-foot Independence Pass to the south. Public transportation is easy to use throughout the valley. The Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, with more than 40,000 take-offs and landings annually, is the third busiest in the state, behind Denver and Colorado Springs.

Pitkin County was established as a Home Rule County in 1978. That means Pitkin County has the authority to establish the organization and structure of the county government via a document known as the Pitkin County Home Rule Charter.

By virtue of the adoption of the Home Rule Charter, the five-member board of county commissioners and the staff are empowered to run the county operations in accordance with the adopted and amended Home Rule Charter.

For the county budget, log onto http://www.aspenpitkin.com/depts/13, or for general information, http://www.aspenpitkin.com.


Elected officials




Clerk and Recorder’s Office






GIS and Mapping


Animal Control/Shelter


Building and Land Use


Housing Authority




The county population was 14,872 in the U.S. Census 2000. The county seat is Aspen. Piktin County has the fourth highest per-capita income of any county in the United States.

The median income for a household in the county is $59,375, and the median income for a family is $75,048. Males have a median income of $40,672 versus $33,896 for females. The per capita income for the county is $40,811. About 3 percent of families and 6.2 percent of the population are below the poverty line, including 4.4 percent of those under age 18 and 5.6 percent of those age 65 or over.

There are nearly 7,000 households and 3,185 families residing in the county. Of those households, 21.1 percent have children under the age of 18 living with them, 38.7 percent are married couples living together, 5.3 percent have a female householder with no husband present, and 53.2 percent are non-families. About 36 percent of all households are made up of individuals and 3.5 percent have someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.14 and the average family size is 2.77.

The population density is 15 people per square mile, according to the 2000 census. There are 10,096 housing units at an average density of 10 per square mile. The racial makeup of the county is 94.33 percent white, 0.53 percent black, 0.27 percent Native American, 1.12 percent Asian, 0.04 percent Pacific Islander, 2.37 percent from other races, and 1.34% from two or more races. About 6.54 percent of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

In the county, the population is spread out with 16.7 percent under the age of 18; 7.7 percent from 18 to 24; 38.3 percent from 25 to 44; 30.5 percent from 45 to 64, and 6.8 percent who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 38 years. For every 100 females there are 115.10 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 117.40 males.





The first silver prospectors in the Roaring Fork Valley arrived in the summer of 1879 and by that fall a small group of entrepreneurs and speculators had staked claims and set up camp at the foot of Aspen Mountain. Before a permanent settlement could be established, news of a nearby Indian uprising prompted Colorado’s Governor Frederick Pitkin to urge the settlers to flee back across the Continental Divide for their safety. Most of them did, and only a handful of settlers remained in the Roaring Fork Valley during the winter of 1879.

Those that remained attempted to organize the camp and passed a resolution to respect the claims of those who had fled, as well as the claims of those settlers who stayed. This action transformed the small group of settlers into a “sovereign” body in the eyes of the state of Colorado and recognized that the rules of local mining districts under the federal mining law of 1866 were to be followed. The citizens had begun the process of organizing themselves into a political body.

By the spring and summer of 1880, those settlers, miners and speculators who had left in fear of Indian uprisings and the harsh winter of 1879, had returned and begun to lay out the town site of Aspen. In Colorado, once an area was free of Indian claims and settlers began to arrive, state law dictated that the area be organized into a political unit. In 1880, Colorado legislators incorporated the Roaring Fork Valley Settlements of Independence, Ashcroft and Aspen, into Gunnison County’s 12th District. Gunnison County Commissioners appointed Warner A. Root Justice of the Peace and he spent the summer of 1880 holding court in a log cabin in Aspen, with the support of a deputy sheriff, also appointed by the Gunnison County Board.

In the winter of 1880, hundreds again fled Aspen and the other camps of Ashcroft and Independence, to wait out the winter in a more hospitable environment. The 35 or so people who braved a second winter encampment in Aspen included the Browns, Gillespies, Cowenhovens and Justice of the Peace Root.

During the long winter, they met to debate the future of the area and decided to seek legal status as their own town and county, separate from Gunnison County. They lobbied the legislature to become a separate county, and on Feb. 23, 1881, Governor Frederick Pitkin signed legislation designating the boundaries of the new county, and named Aspen as the temporary county seat. The governor appointed the first office holders in Pitkin County, including county judge, recorder, sheriff, treasurer, coroner, surveyor, assessor and three commissioners. Warner A. Root, as the highest ranking official of the town, was instrumental in the incorporation of the town of Aspen, which was accomplished in May, 1881.

The new commissioners spent a substantial amount of time building roads, creating a bureaucracy and trying to collect the taxes they levied. The first tax bills were sent out in December 1881, and of the $8,000 levied only $926 was collected. Outraged citizens refused to pay their tax bills and the commissioners spent a lot of time hearing tax appeals. Meanwhile, the county debt rose to over $37,000.

By the end of the first year, the new county government had been responsible for improvements to the roads that led to the mines on Aspen Mountain, as well as repairs to the toll road over Independence Pass. In the spring of 1882, two stages a day came over the mountain passes from Leadville. New roads had been built opening up access to Ashcroft and outlying county agricultural lands.

By September of 1882, the Commissioners discovered that not only were roads expensive to build, but the ongoing cost of maintenance was high. These expenses, in addition to salaries, and other improvements, had escalated the County debt to $176,636. In a plan which may sound familiar to today’s elected officials, the first Pitkin County Commissioners resolved to embark on a plan of increased taxes and reduced expenditures, in order to pay for the improvements and services demanded by the growing population.




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