Road to Pine Creek will be plowed early |

Road to Pine Creek will be plowed early

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Castle Creek Road will be plowed as far as the Pine Creek Cookhouse, destroyed earlier this month by fire, so insurance investigators can get to the site and owner John Wilcox can initiate construction of a new restaurant.

Pitkin County commissioners granted Wilcox’s request to clear snow off the paved road on Wednesday, but stressed the early opening is not something they’re inclined to repeat.

The county road is one of a number of backcountry access routes that the county does not plow, but rather, lets Mother Nature open each spring. In fact, the county doesn’t allow plowing on the upper reaches of the road, according to Brian Pettet, county director of public works.

Snow on the road had melted to within about 300 yards of the cookhouse before this week’s snows. Getting the road open quickly is necessary, according to Wilcox, both for the insurance investigation and in order to get moving quickly on clearing the debris and rebuilding the restaurant.

The insurance investigators want to remove what remains of the kitchen appliances that were fueled by a propane tank, he said. Leaking propane was apparently the cause of the April 10 explosion that destroyed the cookhouse, according to local fire officials. No one was hurt in the blaze.

In order to begin work quickly on a new foundation, a drill rig operator needs to be able to reach the site to perform soil tests, added Glenn Horn, Wilcox’s planning consultant.

“We will rise from the ashes and build something the community will be happy with and be proud of,” Wilcox said. “We are in a position to move ahead and try to build something this summer. It’s our intent to be open by Thanksgiving or Christmas.”

Wilcox operates Ashcroft Ski Touring in the upper Castle Creek Valley, south of Aspen. During the winter, cross-country skiers can ski up the road to the cookhouse and beyond, or pay to use the groomed trails in the meadows to either side of the road. The road is gated and left unplowed about a mile north of the cookhouse.

Wilcox already had plans to replace the cookhouse, approved in 2001. The new, 4,500-square-foot restaurant will have seating for 75 people inside (five more than the old cookhouse), plus 40 more on an outside deck, Horn said. The new facility will also have handicapped-accessible restrooms and a larger kitchen, Wilcox said.

His plans also include replacing the old A-frame housing near the cookhouse with two four-person dorms and a three-bedroom manager’s house. A new King Cabin, headquarters for Ashcroft Ski Touring, is also in his future plans. The cabin is located near the gate and parking area, where the plowed road ends.

Replacement of the restaurant, however, is this summer’s project, Wilcox said.

Since the road will be plowed early as far as the cookhouse, commissioners directed Pettet to open the gate and set up a temporary barrier at the end of the plowed segment. That way, skiers can drive as far as the road is plowed and then continue on skis into the backcountry.

Though the county is often pestered to clear backcountry roads, like Maroon Creek Road, early, commissioners stressed permission to plow Castle Creek Road is a special exception.

“Because of the disaster of a fire would be my only reason for making this happen,” Commissioner Dorothea Farris said.

“We are not setting a precedent to open backcountry roads except in extreme situations, and this is one,” agreed Commission Chairman Jack Hatfield.

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