Pitkin County yet to decide how to handle climbing area
October 5, 2009
ASPEN – Gold Butte, a once-popular climbing area on the outskirts of Aspen, could be in public hands and back open to climbing by year’s end.
How actively the rocky crag along the Rio Grande Trail is managed, however, remains to be seen.
A plat amendment for Red Butte Ranch, a property off McLain Flats Road, was recently approved by Pitkin County commissioners on a 3-1 vote. As part of the approval, the landowner offered to turn over both Gold Butte and an ice-climbing area along the Rio Grande Trail to the county.
Members of the local climbing community have expressed a willingness to establish routes at Gold Butte and build a trail upward from Rio Grande Trail to access the area. But commissioners have yet to decide how much, or how little, the county will be involved in what happens there once the paperwork to transfer ownership is complete.
One option, said County Attorney John Ely, is to do nothing – “let people use it like the backcountry,” he said.
“The logical thing might be to just hang back and see what happens,” he said.
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But, he previously suggested commissioners consider taking a more proactive role, which could include putting up some signs and working with climbers to bolt some routes.
The need to manage the area will depend upon how heavily it’s used, Ely predicted. It’s possible it will manage itself unless the area proves hugely popular.
“When tons of people use something, you generally want to manage it so it’s not a free-for-all,” he said.
Climbers say the south-facing Gold Butte will offer climbing opportunities nearly year-round and predict it will be a popular option for locals looking for a quick, nearby climb that can be easily accessed. It has been mentioned as a place for beginner climbing instruction, as well.
Commissioner Michael Owsley said he’ll be looking to the county’s Open Space and Trails Program to develop a management plan for Gold Butte, if there’s to be one, though the property isn’t being acquired through the Open Space Program.
During the commissioners’ deliberations on the plat amendment, though, Commissioner Jack Hatfield suggested the county shy away from actively managing the area.
“I like the idea of a more benign approach to this – where we don’t authorize routes and bolts,” he said. “I want to manage this in a minimalist way.”