Three men fined for illegal single-track bike trail near airport

by Chad Abraham, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
An Aspen man agreed to pay over $5,000 to Pitkin County for constructing an illegal, single-track bike trail near the airport in May, according to a press release issued Monday.

The county’s open space and trails department began investigating Al Beyer, a local architect, and two Old Snowmass brothers, Benjamin and Nils Koons, in May.

On May 14, senior open space ranger John Armstrong saw the Koons on the trail carrying mattocks, a hand tool similar to a pickaxe, Armstrong said in an interview.

“They turned and ran,” he said.

He was able to catch up to them, but they refused to provide their names. A sheriff’s deputy, however, already had ran their license plate, and Armstrong said he convinced them that it was in their best interest to speak with him. He cited them for vandalism, and each paid a $100 fine.

The investigation soon centered on Beyer for several reasons, Armstrong said.

The so-called bandit trail was located across from Shale Bluffs on private property before it ran into the county-owned Airport Ranch Open Space, which is near the western end of the runway, he said.

Last winter, Beyer approached the property owner about building a trail in the area. And when the county was considering new trails to build last year, he sent a map to the open space and trails department that “very closely matches the layout of the trail that was built,” Armstrong said.

Beyer said in an interview that such a trail has been needed for some time, and the county’s press release says some members of the mountain biking community promoted such a path during last year’s public input process.

“The trail was intended to be a gift to the community and wasn’t built for any group exclusively or for personal gain,” Beyer said.

The trail solved the connection between the Airport Business Center and the Brush Creek Intercept Lot without the need to travel on Highway 82, he said, adding that the public has requested the connection for years and that it is “on the radar of every local trails group.”

Beyer, who paid $5,117 in restitution, and the Koons constructed two separate sections totaling 2,000 feet of a “well-developed” trail, with small retaining walls and cuts into the slope of over 3 feet in places, the press release says. It led through an extensive, abandoned homeless camp.

But it traversed very steep and unstable shale and is not suitable for a single-track trail without the construction of major support structures, said Gary Tennenbaum, assistant director of open space and trails, in the press release.

The county ended up building about six miles of single track in 2013.

“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,” Tennenbaum said.

Beyer, who nearly faced a criminal charge, countered that the Airport Open Space has been relatively ignored over time and is riddled with existing user-built trails that have not been well planned or constructed.

His trail concept was to link the 1880s-era Stage Road into Aspen with various trail segments through the open space “in the manner that fit most naturally into the landscape” and to “connect the dots between many places,” including the Brush Creek pathway, the new Sky Mountain Park trails and Aspen, he said.

Tennenbaum said in the release that the county is developing an Upper Roaring Fork Trails Plan, which will give mountain bikers 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,” he said.

Beyer said he believed that “a simple trail solution for minimal cost would be accepted as a positive amenity, and I’m sorry the imperfect process has meant the trail had to be removed.

“It could have been a great trail and in use today,” he said. “Hopefully, there will be a viable solution available to the public in the near future.”

An open space and trails maintenance crew is restoring the site to its former condition, but “it will take years for the trail cut to be restored, since it was built on such a steep and unstable slope,” Tennenbaum said.