Route to Benedict Huts could cost Pitco $24,000 |

Route to Benedict Huts could cost Pitco $24,000

Jeremy Heiman

Landowner Wilk Wilkinson has asked the Tenth Mountain Hut System to pay $24,000 annually to use a trail across his property on Smuggler Mountain.

Wilkinson’s request, made in late October, was also sent to Pitkin County officials by e-mail. But Tenth Mountain officials have vowed to use Smuggler Mountain Road or create a new trail to the Benedict Huts atop the mountain rather than pay the fee.

Skiers have been traveling to the huts since they opened for the winter of 1997-98 without a charge for the use of the trail. Wilkinson did mention the idea of a charge at one point, said Peter Looram, executive director of the hut system, but the subject was dropped.

Looram said when Tenth Mountain Hut Association representatives first discussed building the two small ski huts near Warren Lakes with Wilkinson, he told them no compensation would be necessary for the use of a trail through his property.

Tenth Mountain representatives sent Wilkinson a document that would have formalized a trail easement, Looram said, but it was not signed or returned. When Looram called to inquire about the agreement, between one and two years ago, Wilkinson mentioned that he’d like some compensation for use of the trail.

“I said, `Wait, Wilk, that’s a change from what we agreed on,'” Looram said. “He said, `My situation’s changed.'”

Wilkinson confirmed that he has asked for payment for use of the trail.

“I asked them for two grand a month,” Wilkinson said. “That doesn’t even cover the taxes on my land.”

Looram told Wilkinson that’s not how the hut system does business.

“The Tenth Mountain isn’t prepared to do this,” he said. The hut system is a nonprofit operation that mostly pays its own way, but can’t afford to undertake unnecessary financial obligations.

The first request was an electronic message addressed to County Commissioners Shellie Roy Harper and Dorothea Farris, mediator James Kent, county open space boss Dale Will and Looram. It asked the county to pay the trail fee.

Wilkinson told the Times he suggested the Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails program shoulder the cost of the trail easement.

The second request, Looram said, was faxed to the Tenth Mountain office. This fax asked the hut system to pay $24,000 per year for the trail easement, he said.

Hut users who travel to the Benedict Huts, named after Fritz and Fabi Benedict, must park at the Hunter Creek lot and use the Hunter Creek trailhead, because there’s no parking available at the bottom of Smuggler. The present trail leaves Hunter Creek and zigzags up through Wilkinson’s property before joining Smuggler Mountain Road higher on the mountain.

If Wilkinson insists on payment, Looram said, the hut system will be forced either to use Smuggler Mountain Road or to create a new trail from Hunter Creek up onto the ridge of Smuggler.

To use the road, skiers would start from Hunter Creek and climb the Hunter Creek Cutoff road to Smuggler Road. That route would be slightly longer, but skiing would be easier than skiing on the trail. Smuggler Road is exposed to more sun, which could create poor skiing conditions.

Also, both Wilkinson and Pitkin County claim ownership of Smuggler Road where it passes through Wilkinson’s property. Pitkin County sued Wilkinson over the ownership of the road last year, and a settlement is not in sight.

A search for a new route to the huts from Hunter Creek would be done in meetings with the U.S. Forest Service, Looram said, using Forest Service recommendations.

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