Pitkin County mulls liability of owning a climbing area
August 11, 2009
ASPEN – The liability associated with owning a rock-climbing venue continued to trouble Pitkin County commissioners as they gazed up at rock faces near Aspen on Monday.
A landowner has offered the county about 13 acres, including two rocky outcroppings known collectively as Gold Hill, as part of a proposal to amend a prior land-use approval in order to move the location of three unbuilt lots.
The lots, part of Red Butte Ranch, are located above the terrain between the Rio Grande Trail and McLain Flats, where the Gold Hill rock faces are located. The deal would also turn over to the county a popular ice-climbing spot where a waterfall exists farther down the trail.
The county already owns two ice-climbing spots near Redstone – the Drool and Redstone Pillars, according to Dale Will, county director of Open Space and Trails, as well as a popular bouldering area near Redstone. All are on county open space, he said.
“There are chalk marks all over there,” he said of the bouldering site. “On a nice day, there’s usually someone up there bouldering.”
Will said he’s not aware of any county open space being used by the climbing community.
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Bouldering is a style of rock climbing typically limited to very short climbs that don’t involve the use of rope or the other hardwear associated with traditional climbing.
In addition to the climbing areas, the property being offered to the county includes the Sunnyside Trail extension between the Rio Grande Trail and McLain Flats Road, an area along the road where more parking for Sunnyside users could be built. The trail extension is already protected with an easement, and no development is possible on the acreage being offered to the county, but putting the property in the county’s hands would presumably reopen public access to Gold Hill. It is not currently open to climbers, said attorney Herb Klein, representing landowner Bob Hurst.
“It’s in no threat of development,” said Alan Richman, the planner representing Hurst. “It’s just a question of it being land that belongs in public ownership.”
Commissioner George Newman recalled climbing on Gold Hill in the 1970s, before the prior owners of the property, the Stein family, closed it off out of liability concerns.
The routes aren’t all that long, but quick access to Gold Hill from town made it a plus, he recalled.
“One of the things about it was, if you just wanted to climb after work for an hour or two, you could come out here and do some routes,” he said.
Commissioners pondered the potential for falling rocks and similar concerns during Monday’s site visit. They have asked the county attorney to weigh in on the liability issue. The broader land-use proposal is scheduled for their review on Sept. 9.