Pitkin County has taken another step closer to strengthening its open space presence in the midvalley.
The Board of Commissioners approved an ordinance Aug. 14 that authorized the purchase of the 137-acre Glassier Ranch with joint funding from Eagle County.
The ordinance allows $2.98 million in Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails money to go toward the purchase. Eagle County will match that total. The tentative closing date on the deal is Jan. 5.
The commissioners approved the purchase by a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Michael Owsley voting against the ordinance.
The purchase and conservation of the 137-acre Glassier Ranch for nearly $6 million is another partnered effort by Pitkin and Eagle counties. Open Space and Trails Director Dale Will worked with Toby Sprunk, the open space director for Eagle County, and made a deal to split the costs evenly between the two counties.
Both counties are still waiting to hear if a grant application has been accepted from Great Outdoors Colorado. If so, the counties will share equally in the savings from the grant.
The Glassier Ranch contract includes approximately 100 acres of irrigated fields and 9 acres on the Roaring Fork River. There is also an existing historic farmhouse and several outbuildings on the 9 acres.
Almost half of the property is adjacent to the Red Ridge Ranch open space recently acquired from Andrew Saltonstall by Pitkin County in partnership with Eagle County, Great Outdoors Colorado and the town of Basalt.
Eagle County will hold a conservation easement on the ranch, while Pitkin County will own it outright and merge the management with that of the adjacent Red Ridge Ranch Open Space.
The county anticipates that the project-management plan for both properties will be completed by the summer of 2014.
The Glassier Ranch property is located entirely within Eagle County. Both Will and Sprunk said residents in both counties would benefit from the acquisition.
Will sees many possible options to plug the public into a property like the Glassier Ranch, and he intends to explore several different uses.
One idea that Will is excited about is the potential for agricultural use. He said there really isn’t a lot of available land in Pitkin County that would allow the same type of farming options.
“If you look at the valley as a system, this area is a key component agriculturally,” Will said. “One possibility would be to lease the land for agricultural purposes and market the products locally.”
Historically, Emma and Carbondale were the most productive farming areas in the valley. Glassier Ranch is one of the few intact farms from the heyday of potato farming in the area.
During World War I, the Roaring Fork Valley produced more potatoes than the whole state of Idaho.
Sprunk agreed that the land has solid agricultural potential but said there are other possibilities, as well.
“Agricultural use is one option,” Sprunk said. “But really, there are many possibilities, and lots of general ideas are being discussed. The main thing is now the land is protected forever. It’s a whole lot easier to protect land when you own it.”
Owsley voted against the ordinance because he didn’t see the essential interest being served to Pitkin County.
“There wasn’t one quality there that I could say, ‘Pitkin County cannot do without this,’” Owsley said. “Pitkin and Eagle County have two different land-use philosophies. In some ways, Pitkin County is subsidizing their less restrictive, more pro-business, more property-rights agenda than we have. The real discussions we need to have are ‘Let’s try and synchronize our land use policies in this valley to some degree.’ The fact is, the money we’re spending is raised in Pitkin County, paid for by property owners in Pitkin County, so it follows to me that unless there’s some essential self-interest, why spend the money outside the county?”
Will has heard that argument and said he respects Owsley’s opinion.
“I do not believe that our self-interest has the same boundary as our county,” Will said.
In a memo last week, Will pointed out that the combination of Glassier Ranch and the Red Ridge Ranch would create a potential open space preserve of approximately 282 acres that reaches from the Roaring Fork River up to 8,000 feet on the slopes of the Crown, a popular recreation area and elk habitat west of the Red Ridge Ranch.
According to Will, the diversity of habitat, scenery and cultural, agricultural and recreational opportunities within those 282 acres would be truly unique in the midvalley.