In order to establish a new trail connection between the East Snowmass Creek Valley and the Windstar property through Shield-O-Mesa, Pitkin County will have to sort out issues with homeowners in the subdivision regarding wear and tear on the road and other public access concerns.
The county’s open space and trails board is recommending the purchase of a 114-acre parcel in the Shield-O subdivision, currently owned by a Utah bank that took possession through foreclosure. The land was previously owned by Jan Christensen, now deceased, who subdivided the surrounding land in the 1970s. It now serves as an open “common area” for the subdivision, sitting in a basin overlooked by other homes, but a private buyer would have the legal right to establish three homesites on the property, according to county officials.
Although the bank has listed the land for $1.8 million, the county open space program struck a deal to buy the land for $475,000, plus $194,000 in back taxes owed to the county treasurer. The deal comes with a 75-day inspection period that ends early next month.
The oddly shaped parcel shares a border, near the top of a ridgeline, with the Windstar Foundation property, previously owned by the late singer John Denver. The scenic 950-acre Windstar property is overlaid by a conservation easement held by the county and Aspen Valley Land Trust. A ranch road through it provides public access.
If the county buys the Shield-O parcel, it would look at building a new trail up the ridge and into the Windstar property, said Dale Will, open space program manager.
While the initial reception from the board of directors of the Shield-O-Mesa Road Improvement and Maintenance Association to the potential open space acquisition was positive, county officials and the homeowners have some details to hammer out before the purchase can be completed.
Foremost on the mind of a majority of homeowners appears to be the road, the maintenance of which is funded by the association, which pays between $12,000 and $18,000 per year for upkeep, including an annual resurfacing, said association president David Hale.
With a new trailhead, which would be on the top of the mesa but on bottom of the subdivision, there would be increased public use of the road. In the coming weeks, the county and the homeowners will have to settle on a number for what the county’s additional contribution to the maintenance association would be.
In a meeting on Wednesday, county commissioner Jack Hatfield said he would want the county’s contribution to be “minimal.” The county’s open space program would be protecting property “literally in their backyard,” so that benefit should be taken into account when the road contribution amount is negotiated, Hatfield said. If the county’s contribution is too much, “my enthusiasm for this project becomes minimal if not nonexistent,” he said. Hatfield also said the project appears to be consistent with “Pitkin County values.”
A few of the 13 homeowners have also voiced opposition to the public-access plan.
“There has been some sentiment that the establishment of a Shield-O-Mesa Open Space would bring too many cars, hikers, bikers and horse riders to our area,” says a letter from the association’s board of directors to the county. The letter notes, however, that the East Snowmass Creek and Snowmass Creek trailheads are rarely busy, except on midsummer weekends. But, those trails do not allow mountain biking. Whether or not mountain biking would be allowed through Shield-O has not yet been decided, Will said.
The association’s letter raises particular concern with commercial mountain biking operations using the trail.
“We would like assurances that private concessionaires would not be able to use the public space for their commercial purposes,” the letter says.
Other concerns are related to making the parking area and trail signage appropriate to the neighborhood, as well as getting more information on wildlife impacts and trash disposal plans.