Wilk memorialized on Smuggler | AspenTimes.com

Wilk memorialized on Smuggler

Sharyn Wynters, Wilk Wilkinson's longtime partner, shares photos of Wilk's artwork with John Ely, Pitkin County attorney, before a memorial service for Wilk Thursday on Smuggler Mountain, where a stone has been placed in his memory. (Janet Urquhart/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN ” A multitude of hikers and bikers climbed up and down Smuggler Mountain Road Thursday, oblivious to a memorial service taking place on the mountain for a man who, in the end, was largely responsible for preserving one of Aspen’s favorite playgrounds.

About two dozen friends and relatives of George “Wilk” Wilkinson gathered in a clearing on the mountainside, in the secluded spot among the aspens that Wilk called home. A stone, carved with part of a poem he wrote, memorializes the spot. Etched in the rock are the words: “The dance of life touches those who participate in passion…”

Friends and Wilk’s longtime partner, Sharyn Wynters, shared stories of his passion for art, rocks, cooking, romance, skiing, discount fashions and the mountain.

“As I look around, his spirit is all over this mountain,” Wynters said.

“He was a combination renaissance man and frontiersman,” said Ray Wall, a longtime friend and attorney who represented Wilk in many of his land-use battles with Pitkin County. “Sometimes he had a little difficulty with the Pitkin County land-use code.”

Wilk amassed about 200 acres of mining claims on Smuggler, the mountain that flanks Aspen’s northeast side, and spent some two decades fighting with the county, often in court, to develop his land holdings. At one point, the county tore down a house he had constructed on his property without permits.

Through it all, Wilk stuck to his principles, Wall said.

“It takes a real man to stand by your principles when compromise might have been easier,” agreed attorney Don Ostrander.

Stymied in his efforts, Wilk, perhaps inadvertently, played a key role in keeping upper benches of the mountain free of development. In late 2005, already diagnosed with brain cancer, he sold his remaining 170 acres for $15 million to Pitkin County and the city of Aspen. Wilk died in California, where he shared a home with Wynters, in September 2006.

“I guess it all worked out,” Wall said. “Now he’s here and he won’t be removed by the county or anyone else.”

“His love for this place astounds me,” added musician Bobby Mason, who led the group in the singing of “Amazing Grace.”

Wynters, her son Josh Young, and Wilk’s son, Jaya Wilkinson, spread his ashes before the memorial stone in silence, but for the rattle of aspen leaves in the breeze.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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