Pitkin County to spend $35k to fix Aspen’s Ute Trail | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County to spend $35k to fix Aspen’s Ute Trail

Pitkin County commissioners approved $35,000 Tuesday to deal with a rock-fall hazard that has closed one of Aspen's most popular hiking trails for the past month.

A lightning strike during a rainstorm in mid-September dislodged a large part of Ute Rock at the top of Ute Trail, which snakes up Ute Mountain on Aspen Mountain's eastside, said G.R. Fielding, Pitkin County engineer.

That large rock broke into smaller pieces as it rolled down the steep slope toward Ute Avenue at the bottom, gouging at least one tree and punching a hole in the street below, said Fielding and the city of Aspen's open space director.

The Ute trailhead is on city property, while much of the trail runs through U.S. Forest Service property. However, Ute Rock is located on a mining claim at the top owned by Pitkin County, so it has fallen to county officials to deal with the large portion of the rock remaining at the top, Fielding said.

That remaining hunk of rock is about 3.5 cubic yards and weighs thousands of pounds, Fielding said.

The county spent $9,000 of the $35,000 allocated Monday to hire a rockfall consultant, who said the county could simply add signage and do nothing, cover the rock with wire mesh and secure it to the top or dislodge it and push it down the mountain in as controlled a manner as possible, he said.

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The consultant said the rock will likely come down the mountain within five to 10 years if nothing is done, Fielding said.

"In geologic terms, that's now," he said.

None of the five county board members were comfortable simply doing nothing.

"I have a hard time about leaving it there and waiting," Commissioner Rachel Richards said.

Commissioner Patti Clapper agreed.

"I think we need to do something," she said, adding that she'd like to see rock-fall warning signs installed no matter what happens.

Commissioner Steve Child said he kept thinking about a family killed in Chaffee County in 2013 by rock fall while on a popular hiking trail.

All agreed that sending the rock down the mountain would be the best solution, provided private assets — including at least one house on Ute Avenue below — and public safety can be adequately protected.

Fielding said he will use the remaining $26,000 allocated by commissioners Tuesday to hire a rock-fall contractor to come up with a plan to push the rock down the mountain. If that cannot be done, the contractor will come up with a plan to secure the rock using wire mesh and other materials, he said.

Commissioner Greg Poschman said if the latter solution proves the only option, he would have concerns about people climbing on the mesh.

Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said whatever the solution, the county needs to move quickly to mitigate the rock-fall concerns because winter's freeze-thaw cycle is rapidly descending.

Fielding said he didn't know when the popular trail might reopen, though he planned on beginning the search for a contractor Wednesday morning.

jauslander@aspentimes.com