New trail along lower Maroon Creek Road, leading to Maroon Bells, moving toward approval
Project managers of the proposed Maroon Creek Multi-Use Trail, also referred to as the Maroon Bells Trail, received critical approvals over the past few weeks for a new bike and pedestrian trail.
The City of Aspen and Pitkin County Open Space and Trails (OST) are partnering on the project, which will connect existing trails above the Maroon Creek roundabout on Highway 82 to the Highlands Trail at the Aspen Recreation Center (ARC).
The new trail will run along the edge of the Moore Open Space and private property, next to the uphill lane of lower Maroon Creek Road, before connecting to existing trails near the ARC’s tennis courts.
Pitkin County’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) approved a resolution on March 7 finding the trail’s location to be in conformance with the Aspen Area Community Plan.
Trail designers hope the new trail will be a clear, safe alternative to the current path that many users find difficult to follow.
Cyclists and pedestrians on their way to Aspen Highlands from the Aspen Chapel today follow a trail next to the downhill lanes on lower Maroon Creek Road. A new multi-use trail will be built on the opposite side of the road, along the edge of the Moore Open Space, which will connect the Aspen Chapel bridge to the Aspen Recreation Center.
Today, pedestrians and cyclists who walk or bike to Aspen Highlands are directed from trails near the Aspen Chapel to a path that runs through the Aspen School District campus on the southern side of lower Maroon Creek Road.
John Spiess, the city’s park and natural resources manager, is leading the project. He told P&Z the new trail will be a clearer path for the increasing number of e-bikers riding up to visit the Maroon Bells.
“E-bikes and their use are rapidly changing on the trails,” Spiess said. “And a lot of our existing trail system, quite frankly, has difficulty handling the speeds that some of these folks are traveling at. And so part of the trail design and trail goals here is, ‘How do we design a trail that can successfully take in a large amount of users that are traveling at higher speeds?’”
Gary Tennenbaum, the director of OST, told Pitkin County commissioners on March 8 that the current path through the Aspen School District campus is not ideal in the wake of threatening phone calls aimed at the school district in February and March.
“Obviously, putting public trails right next to high schools right now, considering what we've been through the last couple of weeks, the school campus overall would love to be more secure,” Tennenbaum said.
The city has budgeted a maximum of $4 million for planning and construction of the trail, which will require retaining walls in some sections.
On March 14, the Aspen City Council approved an initial contract with Gould Construction to serve as construction manager and general contractor for the trail project.
“Design and engineering for the trail have progressed quickly and the delivery of 90% construction documents is anticipated by the end of this month,” a city staff memo on the contract stated.
The county is also contributing $500,000 to the project.
Tennenbaum said the project is consistent with the approved management plan for the Moore Open Space.
The final budget for the trail is expected to be approved by the city in the fall, with construction beginning in the spring of 2024, although it is possible some preliminary work may take place this year, according to Spiess.
Crown Property Easement
The new 5,245-foot long trail will be 10-feet wide and at least 15 feet away from the edge of lower Maroon Creek Road.
OST approved the new trail on Moore Open Space in August, 2022, but the new trail will also cross the edge of a private parcel of land across from the Aspen School District campus on lower Maroon Creek Road.
On March 8, the Pitkin County commissioners approved at first reading a trail license, or temporary easement, that will allow trail construction on the edge of the 45-acre parcel.
The property is controlled by the Crown family of Chicago, who owns the Aspen Skiing Company.
Members of the Crown family, including SkiCo Managing Partner Jim Crown, purchased the parcel in 2010 for $13 million via S&J Investment II LLC. The name of the controlling entity was changed in 2022 to Pyramid Ranch LLC.
The five-year, renewable trail license is a temporary easement and can be revoked by the Crowns at any time, which would force the City of Aspen and Pitkin County to move that section of the trail.
But county officials say the landowners have a history of cooperation on similar easements.
“We feel very comfortable with this license since we have worked extensively with the owners and trust that a permanent easement will be secured in the future,” Gary Tennenbaum, the county’s Open Space and Trails director, told the county commissioners on March 8.
Jim Crown has signed another temporary easement with the county to allow cross-country skiing trails on their land next to the Moore Open Space.
Tennenbaum says the owners of Pyramid Ranch LLC have been working with the county and city on making the new multi-use trail possible, but are not yet ready to grant a permanent easement for it.
“A lot of landowners like to hold that in their pocket for the future when they come in with a potential land-use application,” Tennenbaum said. “This is obviously a property inside the urban growth boundary. So this could potentially be an annexation in the future.”
A spokesperson for the Crown family said they could not comment on the family’s land holdings or their plans for such properties. The property sits in an area where the city and county boundaries are arranged in a complex pattern.
The temporary trail license would give city and county rangers the ability to enforce county regulations on the section of trail on the Crown’s property, such as requiring dogs to be on a leash and prohibiting motorized vehicles.
The second, final reading by the county commissioners on the trail license is scheduled for April 11.