Smuggler road fight heats up
Pitkin County’s ongoing battle to preserve public access to the roads on Smuggler Mountain escalated Sunday when Smuggler landowner Wilk Wilkinson kicked a county official off the cutoff road that goes into Hunter Creek.
Wilkinson has posed “No Trespassing” signs along the cutoff road, where it splits off from Smuggler Mountain Road near the platform. He also strung a cable across the road yesterday shortly after his encounter with Cindy Houben, the county’s head planner, and this Aspen Times reporter. A “No Trespassing” sign also dangles from the cable.
Wilkinson said he would call the sheriff if he caught Houben on the road again and then said he was banishing “everybody” from using the road until the county pays him for it.
Houben agreed to turn around, telling Wilkinson she would adhere to his wishes out of respect for him, though she believes the road is public.
The cutoff road is a popular route from Smuggler Mountain Road into the Hunter Creek Valley. Wilkinson, who has amassed more than 200 acres on the mountain, which flanks Aspen to the northeast, has long contended that the roads are private as they pass through his property.
“I guess it’s time to find out who owns the roads once and for all,” Houben said after the confrontation.
The county, attempting to do just that, has filed suit in federal court in Denver, naming Wilkinson and other Smuggler property owners as defendants. It asks the court for “declaratory relief and quiet title” to Smuggler Mountain Road.
Wilkinson has filed a motion asking that the judge address the ownership of the cutoff road, as well.
The county filed a response to that motion Friday that agrees to the adjudication of the cutoff road, as well, according to Debbie Quinn, assistant county attorney.
“It would make some sense,” she said. “We don’t oppose it, but we wanted Wilk to clarify his motion. He didn’t really take a position.
“I guess he has now,” she added.
The county and Wilkinson have been unsuccessful in past negotiations to settle the road dispute. Broader discussions have touched on the county’s purchase of Wilkinson’s landholdings, which would settle the road issue and maintain property on Smuggler as open space.
The most recent settlement talks over the road lawsuit, on Dec. 1, went nowhere, Quinn said.
This fall, the county sought out longtime locals who have used the roads on Smuggler for more than 20 years and were willing to sign an affidavit confirming their use of the roads. The county is using the affidavits to help establish public ownership of the roads.
Police scanner traffic later Sunday indicated that Wilkinson was reporting that someone had stolen a sparkplug from one of his snowmobiles and that he was closing all roads on his property.
What action the county might take if Wilkinson enforces his declaration that the roads on his property are closed to all until the county pays him for it remains to be seen.
“I can’t say what the county will do about it until after I talk to the board [of county commissioners],” Quinn said. “I know there will be a lot of people who won’t be happy.”
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