The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board voted Thursday to recommend the purchase of 20 acres near the wilderness boundary in the upper Hunter Creek Valley and eliminate the potential threat of development in what’s affectionately known as Aspen’s back yard.
The parcel is thought to be the last developable piece of private land beyond the national forest boundary in the scenic valley. Made up of side-by-side mining claims - the Rolland and Mamie lodes - the property is located high on the ridge to the north side of the valley floor.
The Open Space program has been working to make sure Hunter Creek remains free of development and the impacts of year-round motorized access since it acquired the Hummingbird Lode in 1998 with help from the City of Aspen, noted Dale Will, acquisition and special projects director. In 2004, the program acquired the Little Chief claim from Lyle Reeder, and in 2009, the program purchased the Virginia Pet, another mining claim surrounded by national forest within the valley. Aspen Valley Land Trust holds conservation easements on the Hummingbird and Little Chief, while the county’s Community Development helped sterilize yet another parcel.
“With the Rolland and Mamie purchase, we believe we will acquire the last privately held parcel that could pose a threat to Hunter Creek,” Will said. “This community has been working to make sure houses don’t spring up in this valley since it battled to protect it from development in the 1970s.”
In the 1990s, the Friends of Hunter Creek and Pitkin County partnered in years of litigation to reopen and preserve recreational access from Aspen into the Hunter Creek Valley and up and into the Hunter-Frying Pan Wilderness, recalled Tim McFlynn, a member of the Open Space and Trails Board and the volunteer attorney for the Friends group.
“Because even a remote cabin would have the right to unrestricted motorized access, year-round and day and night, this acquisition is a real milestone,” McFlynn said. “It will ensure that opportunities for solitude remain for wildlife as well as skiers and hikers, equestrians and bikers.”
Currently, motorized access to the valley is only permitted during hunting season, as required by the U.S. Forest Service Management Plan for the area.
With Thursday’s action, the Open Space and Trails Board approved a contract for $1.3 million, plus a transferable development right, or TDR, that the property owner may sell. County commissioners, who must also approve the expenditure, could eliminate the TDR by increasing the purchase price to $1.5 million – an option that also has the Open Space Board’s blessing.
An anonymous donor has offered to contribute $100,000 to the Rolland and Mamie purchase, according to Will. Other charitable gifts to offset the purchase price are welcome, he said.
Gary Tennenbaum, director, 970-920-5355
Dale Will, acquisition and special project director, 970-920-5203