OLD SNOWMASS - The 957-acre property that John Denver bought in the late 1970s as headquarters for the Windstar Foundation is under contract for sale, according to the Windstar Land Conservancy.
The property in Old Snowmass will be sold to a private buyer whose identity hasn't been disclosed, at a price that hasn't been revealed yet. The conservancy placed the property on the market in September for $13.5 million.
The Windstar Land Conservancy was founded in 1996 by the Windstar Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Institute to own and manage the land. The institute operates an office at the property for about 20 employees.
Institute Executive Director Marty Pickett said the sale is scheduled to be completed by the end of April.
"It's a real bittersweet time for us. We loved that property," she said.
But the sale also will help the institute achieve its goal of constructing a state-of-the-art green office building in Basalt.
A conservation easement snuffs the development potential on 927 of the 957 acres. The Aspen Valley Land Trust and Pitkin County Open Space and Trails hold the easements. The only activities that can be undertaken on the 927 acres is maintaining wildlife habitat, irrigating and agricultural uses, said Martha Cochran, the land trust's executive director.
"(The Rocky Mountain Institute) has been a great steward," Cochran said. "We're looking forward to working with the next owner."
The sale can be considered an unofficial end to Denver's vision for the Windstar Foundation, a nonprofit organization that strove for positive change from a global and Roaring Fork Valley perspective. The foundation was especially active in environmental issues. Denver founded the Windstar Foundation in 1976. He bought the Old Snowmass ranch as a headquarters for the organization. Denver died Oct. 12, 1997.
"Windstar kind of fizzled after John died," said Karmen Dopslaff, a member of the Windstar Land Conservancy's board of directors and former board president of the Windstar Foundation.
Dopslaff and other Windstar supporters struggled to keep the foundation going for years until they learned from Denver's visionary partner, Tom Crum, that Denver had felt the foundation should be disbanded and its mission carried out by other local organizations.
"That's when we realized, 'What are we doing if that's not what John wanted?'" Dopslaff said. "It wasn't easy for those of us who were with Windstar for a really long time."
The Windstar Foundation was dissolved last fall.
The Windstar property was envisioned by Denver for an office building and research center in excess of 20,000 square feet and for employee housing for as many as 20 workers. When the conservation easement was placed on the bulk of the property in 1996, the remaining 30 acres were eyed for the institutional facilities.
The Rocky Mountain Institute, a think tank on energy-efficiency issues, unsuccessfully tried to get the plan approved by the county in 2004. The institute has shifted its sights to building an office in Basalt, where the Taqueria el Nopal restaurant is currently located.
When the institute and the Windstar Land Conservancy announced plans to market the Old Snowmass property last fall, they said they intended to seek approval from Pitkin County for a single-family home on the 30-acre parcel without a conservation easement. Pickett said the conservancy decided not to seek approval and defer to whoever buys the property to submit their own application. The assumption is that the buyer aims to build a house on the property, she said.
The agreement with the potential buyer of the Windstar property will allow the institute to maintain its offices there for two years. Pickett said the Basalt office probably won't be completed by that time. It will have to find an interim site.
Dopslaff and Pickett said Denver's vision for the Windstar ranch will be largely maintained despite the sale. In addition, proceeds will help carry out his vision. The conservation easement on the 927 acres cannot be altered.
"That's in perpetuity," Pickett said.
In addition, the easement comes with a guarantee of public access.
"That's solid," said the land trust's Cochran.
The property includes Windwalker's Ditch, which visitors typically walk along. The next landowner cannot restrict the access, Cochran said. Negotiations will be necessary to establish long-term parking rights for the public, she said.
The sale also will honor Denver's legacy because the proceeds will be split evenly between the institute and the John Denver Aspenglow Fund at the Aspen Community Foundation. The funds will help the Rocky Mountain Institute establish its new home.
Dopslaff said the Aspenglow Fund will support Roaring Fork Valley causes on topics that Denver believed in.
"John loved the Aspen community. He really did," she said.
One program that will be assisted is the Cradle to Career Initiative, being undertaken from Aspen to Rifle. It strives to make sure all kids are prepared for kindergarten and that high school graduates are prepared to enter college or the work force.
"We're going to support them. That's an absolute," Dopslaff said.
Funds also will be donated to create the John Denver-Tom Crum Media Center in the institute's new office building, Dopslaff said. It will outline the story of the vision and founding of the Windstar Foundation.
Dopslaff said the goal will be to build the John Denver Aspenglow Fund into an endowment that helps charitable causes for years to come.
"Having proceeds from the sale of the Windstar land go to charitable organizations that honor John's spirit and vision is a wonderful result," said Annie Denver, the singer's first wife.