ASPEN (July 21, 2014) – Aspen resident Al Beyer apologized Friday, July 18 to Pitkin County Open Space and Trails and accepted responsibility for damage he caused to the Airport Ranch Open Space, where county rangers discovered unauthorized trail construction taking place in May.
Beyer also paid $5,117.22 to the county in reparations for the damage.
Two Old Snowmass men were each cited May 14 for vandalism for their role in the bandit trail work. Brothers Benjamin and Nils Koons each paid the $100 fine for the citation, according to Senior Ranger John Armstrong. Pitkin County was prepared to pursue criminal charges against Beyer and seek restitution to recoup the cost of reclaiming and restoring the roughly 2,000 feet of trail that was built into the steep hillside, east of Highway 82 and north of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. The trail project extended onto an adjacent, privately owned parcel that Open Space and Trails was in the process of purchasing at the time. Beyer’s apology and payment of reparations puts the matter to rest.
“With all of the new trails Pitkin County and its partners are building on Sky Mountain Park, Smuggler and Hunter Creek, it was very disappointing to see an illegal trail built,” said Gary Tennenbaum, assistant director of Open Space and Trails. “We have been very open to public input and are in the process of creating an Upper Roaring Fork Trails Plan. Unlike the past, mountain bikers now have a way to get new trails built. Just going and building them wherever an individual feels a trail is needed is not going to be tolerated.”
Construction of the bandit route came to light on May 13, when Armstrong and Ranger Andy Testo were checking a report of illegal camping on the Airport Ranch Open Space, accessed off Hwy. 82, east of Shale Bluffs. They discovered a well-developed trail. It led through an extensive, abandoned camp and continued east, requiring the construction of small retaining walls in some areas and resulting in cuts into the slope of more than 3 feet in some places, according to Armstrong. Two separate sections of trail, totaling about 2,000 feet, had been constructed.
Armstrong returned on May 14 and found four vehicles parked at the gate off Hwy. 82, where anglers frequently access the Airport Ranch Open Space and hike down to the Roaring Fork River. He was again walking the entire length of the newly built trail when he saw two men carrying trail-building implements. The men initially fled, according to Armstrong, and refused to provide their names when they stopped. Armstrong accompanied the duo back up to the parking area off the highway, where the Koons brothers identified themselves to a waiting sheriff’s deputy and Armstrong issued each of them a citation.
The Open Space and Trails maintenance crew, working with Armstrong, has reclaimed the trail and is in the process of restoring the site to its former condition. “It will take years for the trail cut to be restored, since it was built on such a steep and unstable slope,” Tennenbaum said.
Pitkin County Open Space and Trails built about 6 miles of single-track last year – a process that first required the approval of trail construction through an adopted management plan, Tennenbaum noted. A single-track on the hillside between the highway and the Roaring Fork River, roughly on the alignment where the illegal construction occurred, was an idea promoted by some members of the mountain biking community during last year’s public input into the Roaring Fork Gorge Management Plan. Such a route, however, was not included in the formally adopted plan.
The area where the illegal trail was constructed consists of very steep and unstable shale and is not suitable for a single-track trail without also building major support structures, Tennenbaum said.
Mike Pritchard, executive director of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association, said his group was disappointed to learn about the unapproved construction of a trail that bikers had advocated during the Roaring Fork Gorge management process.
“We are grateful for the recent momentum gained toward growing and improving our trail system, and recognize that this momentum would not be possible without the cooperation of our many land-management agency partners,” he said in a prepared statement. “We fully support Pitkin County’s management actions in the Roaring Fork Gorge. We urge local mountain bikers to have patience while approvals for new and improved trails are gained, and ask that all posted trail closures be respected.”