Smuggler a gem worth buying
November 1, 2005
Pitkin County and the city of Aspen are on the verge of closing a historic land deal that both local governments have sought for years.We hope the City Council, the county commissioners and their key officers will pull out all the stops to ensure this deal goes through – that “Wilk” Wilkinson’s 170 or so acres on Smuggler Mountain become public open space.Smuggler Mountain Road is one of the most popular backcountry portals out of Aspen, and the mountain itself is one of the only remaining undeveloped expanses that borders the city limits. For years, Wilkinson and county officials have fought over his right to develop the face of the mountain; he has rejected several multimillion-dollar offers from local governments in the hope of someday obtaining development approvals.Now there is a $15 million deal on the table to put the whole matter to rest. The county commissioners are set to vote Nov. 16 on the acquisition, which calls for the city and the county to split the purchase price. This is a lot of money, perhaps more than Wilkinson deserves for land the county would never have allowed him to develop anyway.On the other hand, there is no more important chunk of open space in the upper valley and no place that receives as much recreational use. This is an important piece of property for a lot of people, making it a perfect spot for the city and county to invest their open space funds. With Smuggler safely in public hands, the most popular access route to the Hunter Creek Valley will be secure, and Aspenites can rest assured that the rugged mass overlooking Aspen’s east end won’t turn into the next Red Mountain, pocked with trophy homes and huge road cuts.Years of struggle notwithstanding, it seems to us virtually everyone wins in this deal. Wilkinson gets a long-awaited return on his investment, and Aspen residents and visitors secure a scenic and recreational prize.This moment has been a long time coming. We hope both sides can cross every last-minute hurdle to make it happen.