A good model
I am writing in response to the article that appeared in the May 17 issue of The Aspen Times by Janet Urquhart, “Gunnison County land swap fires up trail advocates.” I have some concerns with the article.
First, Ms. Urquhart intertwines two very separate land exchanges. As reported, Congressman Salazar introduced a bill (H.R. 5059) proposing a land exchange in Gunnison County near Paonia Reservoir. What is not clear from the article is that this bill has nothing to do with the controversial Wexner land exchange in Pitkin County. People should not confuse the two.
Second, the article discounts a great opportunity we have here in Gunnison County. The travel management planning, as mandated in H.R. 5059, will have Gunnison County work with the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM to address various options concerning travel management on federal lands. In fact, the proposed legislation includes funding for trails and other improvements, once they are planned out. While we must maintain flexibility for future trail planning, none of the potential routes mentioned in The Aspen Times article have been determined.
For instance, there is talk of a potential bike trail from Crested Butte to McClure Pass. If that ever happens, Bear Ranch has promised to work with Gunnison County to grant an easement on the southern end of the ranch along County Road 12 (Kebler Pass Road). However, there are other private landowners who would have to agree, and Gunnison County has not yet determined exactly where the route will be located.
In addition, some mountain bikers want Bear Ranch to finance a new mountain bike trail that would parallel the existing mountain bike/ORV trail that runs from Kebler Pass to McClure Pass above Bear Ranch on the flanks of the Ragged Mountains. However, it is unclear whether such a trail would be approved by the Forest Service.
Until Gunnison County, the BLM and the Forest Service complete their travel management plan for the area, we will not know which trails will be approved, or where they will be located.
In the meantime, I believe the proposed Gunnison County land exchange is highly beneficial to our area near Paonia Reservoir. It maintains maximum flexibility for future travel planning. Bear Ranch has demonstrated that they are highly cooperative and responsive to the needs of public lands users, including agreeing to contribute substantial sums of money for local trail improvements. Bear Ranch has agreed to place permanent conservation easements on all lands they acquire in the exchange, preserving them as open space forever. And, the bill assures there will be public funding available for future trail improvements.
This bill is a good model for future public land planning.