Red Mountain acreage near Aspen to be donated to Pitkin County |

Red Mountain acreage near Aspen to be donated to Pitkin County

A parcel at the bottom of Red Mountain, seen in the distance from the top of the Ute Trail in 2016, was donated by homeowners to keep free from development.
Lauren Glendenning/The Aspen Times

A large, steep swath of upper Red Mountain that can be seen from just about anywhere in Aspen could soon belong to the residents of Pitkin County.

“It’s a free piece of land donated by Red Mountain homeowners because they want to do the right thing by the community,” Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman said Tuesday. “This is in your face. It’s in all of our views (of Red Mountain).”

Poschman said the president of the Red Mountain Homeowners Association, Jerry Murdock, approached him in late September about donating the 55-acre parcel to the county’s open space and trails program. The association owns the property as common space, though it could be sold, divided into five parcels and eventually might feature a large home, he said.

“There were people interested in buying it,” Poschman said. “If you had the resources to do it, you could figure out how to develop it.”

However, the homeowners want to keep the area free of development so they proposed the donation, Poschman said. The parcel is located above the highest row of homes on Red Mountain and stretches from the Hunter Creek side of the mountain past the first gully that comes down from the top, Poschman said. The acreage extends about 150 yards up the mountain from the top row of homes.

If commissioners end up approving the donation — they will first consider it Wednesday during their regular bimonthly meeting — the property will be neutralized, though the public will not be able to use the land like other open space properties throughout the county, said Gary Tennenbaum, director of the open space program.

The slopes are too steep and harbor wildlife habitat — Poschman said he’s been told a bear den may exist in the area, which also features elk and deer — so it would not be appropriate for trails or recreation, Poschman and Tennenbaum said.

“(The deal between the county and the homeowners) basically makes sure it never gets developed,” Tennenbaum said.

The steepness of the parcel has led to rockfall mitigation concerns, according to a memo written by Richard Neilly, Pitkin County assistant attorney. That led the homeowners association to put $73,000 in an escrow account to pay for mitigation efforts, the memo states.

One rock outcropping already has been identified as a potential hazard, and an engineering company is working to identify any others, Neilly’s memo states. Those efforts could be expensive, as evidenced by the $124,000 the county recently spent to mitigate rockfall issues at the top of Ute Trail on the east side of Aspen Mountain, the memo states.

The county entered into a contract to acquire the property in March and is set to close May 9, according to the memo.

Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said the deal is only costing the county in terms of staff time, and that the attorney’s office is making sure due diligence is done before the county takes it over.

“We think there’s a real public benefit to acquiring this property,” Peacock said.

Murdock declined to comment when reached Tuesday.