Nonprofits buy mining claims with road access through wilderness near ghost town of Independence | AspenTimes.com

Nonprofits buy mining claims with road access through wilderness near ghost town of Independence

A threat of development and vehicular access into the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness near the ghost town of Independence was eliminated Thursday thanks to teamwork by two Aspen-area conservation groups and willing sellers.

Wilderness Land Trust and the Independence Pass Foundation raised the funds to buy two adjacent patented mining claims high in the hills about 13 miles east of Aspen. The Grand View and Spotted Tail lodes created an 18-acre inholding surrounded by wilderness.

Wilderness Land Trust completed the $285,000 purchase Thursday, with financial help from the Independence Pass Foundation.

"It would have been difficult for us to do it on our own," said Reid Haughey, executive director of Wilderness Land Trust.

The nonprofit organization acquires property within or adjacent to wilderness areas throughout the Western U.S. It has successfully sold every one of those properties to the U.S. government — more than 400 times. More often than not, that property gets folded into wilderness — where motorized and mechanized uses are prohibited. In some cases, the land acquired provides critical trail access into wilderness.

The Independence Pass Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the natural environment and historic resources of the pass and its approaches. It got involved in this purchase because of the implications if the property would have been developed.

"It would have totally changed the feel of that part of the pass," said Karin Teague, director of the foundation. She said Independence Pass Foundation supporters Al Beyer, Bob Wade and Peter Looram contributed to the campaign to buy the mining claims.

Cool, historic area

The Grand View and Spotted Tail lodes are located south of Highway 82 just west of Independence. An old mining road crosses the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River and heads up a thickly wooded mountainside that is pocked with mine shafts and deteriorating ruins of mining-era buildings. Gold was discovered in the area July 4, 1879. Independence was a boomtown that went bust just as quickly. The area was largely abandoned by 1890.

Haughey said there is a collapsed mineshaft on the property acquired, but he is unaware of any ruins. Other mining claims in the same area were more heavily worked. Scars of the mines and skeletons of structures remain.

The Grand View and Spotted Tail mining claims were eventually acquired by longtime Aspen resident Lyle Reeder, now deceased, and local attorney Dan Shipp. They owned them for 28 years and camped and hunted on the property, Shipp said. The Grand View is aptly named because of its view of the surrounding terrain, including Independence and what is now Lost Man Reservoir, he said.

Legal access on road through wilderness

The owners were able to legally drive to the site because of rights to use the old mining road. The wilderness boundary is lower on the hillside.

Reeder acquired the Spotted Tail after it had been separated from a transferable development right, according to Shipp. Pitkin County has a program where development rights can be transferred out of pristine areas to neighborhoods deemed appropriate for development.

Haughey said the Spotted Tail didn't have a lot of value remaining. He called it a "carcass property."

The Grand View held the value because it had rights to some level of development, though it would have been required to go through Pitkin County's rigorous land-use review process, Haughey said. The U.S. Forest Service determined the property had legal access via the road, according to Teague.

Shipp said he and Reeder intended to build a cabin on the site but never got around to it. Reeder died in September 2011. His nephew Milt Reeder settled his estate. The mining claims were listed for sale at one point but no deal was made at the asking price. Wilderness Land Trust, Independence Pass Foundation, Pitkin County and the Forest Service all were interested in getting the property into public hands. Wilderness Land Trust took the lead in negotiations last spring.

Haughey said it was a "pleasure" to work with Milt Reeder and Shipp. He is confident the federal government will be interested in acquiring the property despite the change in tenor with the Trump administration. Congress has generally supported a fund to acquire inholdings in wilderness, Haughey said.

The Grand View and Spotted Tail are believed to be the last two mining claims in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness in Pitkin County that had road access, Haughey and Teague said. There are five other privately owned inholdings within the wilderness in the county.

scondon@aspentimes.com