Smuggler still open to motorized use |

Smuggler still open to motorized use

Jeremy Heiman

With the summer season approaching, it looks as though Smuggler Mountain Road will remain open to Jeeps and motorcycles this year.

A group of citizens interested in keeping the road open has come forward with ideas for managing the road and for preventing off-road damage on the mountain, though the ideas haven’t been formalized in any way.

When a citizens committee called the Hunter Creek Task Force recommended that Pitkin County close the road last fall, a number of people showed up at a Pitkin County commissioners’ meeting to object to the closure. Commissioners suggested they form another committee and draft a “compliance and enforcement plan” for the road and study the issue of motorized use of the road further.

Task force members had recommended the closure because drivers and motorcyclists have torn up fragile alpine meadows near the road in the past. Closing the road was supported by U.S. Forest Service officials, who complained their agency’s low level of funding doesn’t allow for enforcement of driving violations.

Smuggler Mountain, flanking Aspen to the east, is popular with mountain bikers and hikers, as well as motorized-vehicle users.

Aspenite Mike Lyons said the citizens met with task force leader Brian Pettet, Pitkin County’s deputy director of public works, in December to discuss what they thought would be a good management strategy for Smuggler Mountain Road. They also met with Pettet and the Hunter Creek Task Force in February.

The motor-vehicle advocates included Lyons; his parents, Chuck and Edeltraud Lyons; Rick and Landon Deane; Tommy Lane and Ron Barr.

“The biggest thing we came up with was education,” Lyons said. How to avoid damage to the land and conflicts with other road users seemed to be the biggest issues.

“Some of the guys said they got the big `stink-eye’ from hikers and bikers on the road,” he said. Jeep drivers, apparently, aren’t well accepted by others, Lyons said.

As a result, the committee decided there’s a need for a sign near the bottom of the road, asking all road users to respect each other and pointing out that Jeeps and motorcycles are permitted to use the road.

Lyons said the group’s other recommendations include:

Placing signs along the road, reminding drivers to stay on the road. The wording and appearance of the signs hasn’t been decided.

Urging drivers and motorcyclists to monitor each other’s compliance with rules.

Planting trees in some slightly washed-out areas to help stop erosion and to discourage driving off the road at those points.

Building a turn-around area at the gate near Warren Lakes, atop Smuggler Mountain.

The group also hopes that someone will do some drainage work on the road, Lyons said.

“That road hasn’t been touched by Pitkin County in a very long time,” he complained. But neither Pitkin County nor the Forest Service has money to fund such work.

The recommendations have not yet been presented to the task force or Pitkin County, said task force member Tom Lankering. But task force members say it won’t work without enforcement.

“Our Hunter Creek Task Force is unanimous, pretty much. We don’t think self-policing will work,” said Charlie Hopton.

The Hunter Creek Task Force master plan was adopted by the county last fall, with the exception of the recommendation to close Smuggler Mountain Road. The plan calls for adoption of existing trails and prohibition of new trails, closure of North and South Hunter Valley Road and Smuggler Cutoff Road to vehicles, creation of visitor maps of the area, and other items.

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