And so it goes with open space and opportunists | AspenTimes.com
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And so it goes with open space and opportunists

OK, hum along with me to the tune of that old Led Zepplin song from their first album: “Good news, bad news, you know we’ve had our share; so our president said he didn’t have to pull out, and he just don’t seem to care. …”Apologies to Jimmy Page and the boys, but scanning the headlines in recent weeks has left me feeling a little dizzy, and I had to sit down and breathe deep for a minute or two.It wasn’t until last Wednesday that I finally let my breath out in a “whoosh,” after reading that the McNulty ranch in Missouri Heights has been spared from the development juggernaut. I had just about concluded that any piece of dirt with a nice view and good water was doomed to become another neighborhood of oversized second homes for people with more dollars than sense.Saving the McNulty ranch may not seem like much to most readers, since it’s a relatively small ranch perched high in the hills above the Roaring Fork River. And, the fact remains, it is no harbinger of salvation for the besieged lands that are still open on the valley floor.But it’s good news for the McNulty family. And it’s good news for anyone who gives a damn about keeping open land open, instead of building monster houses that satisfy no real purpose beyond the rather narrow needs of real estate agents, builders, land-use attorneys and the wealthy, who have too many homes already.But on the flip side, it came out recently that Pat Smith and his band of venture capitalists have scooped up the Bair Chase ranch between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.This is not such good news. Apparently Smith and his crew are not satisfied with owning just about everything in Snowmass Village, including the Base Village development that is poised to change Snowmass irrevocably. A town fashioned overnight from sheep pastures and an absolutely gorgeous network of valleys and hills, Snowmass is about to undergo an upheaval that will make its creation look like a benign brush from a ski-fairie’s wand.Of course, the Bair Chase ranch was doomed when it became a card in the poker game of oil shale, part of a hand held tightly in the fist of the Union Oil of California. Bought for its water rights in the late ’70s or early ’80s, it languished for years as a ghostly reminder of ranching days gone by. Then, a band of hucksters and hustlers decided they could make a quick buck and took it off Union Oil’s hands.They were as surprised as anyone when their project ran afoul of Garfield County and then into an economic quagmire. The venture failed spectacularly but left an ugly scar of exposed dirt where they scraped off the topsoil and vegetation before they had the backing to build anything. Maybe the sight of all that sagebrush and grass offended their visions of quick riches and tall houses, I’m not sure.Anyway, Smith holds the wheel now for Bair Chase, and he seems to have deeper reserves than any of the previous teams of speculators, which means the land’s sputtering attempts at recovery from the scraping likely will go no further. So it goes, as the late Kurt Vonnegut might have said.So, from my perspective, there’s good news and there’s bad news, and that’s the way it is today.By way of a postscript, as I was writing this I got a call from a friend, saying her husband, my longtime chum Tom Benton, died after battling cancer for what seemed like an incredibly short time.That, too, is the way it is these days. Each and every morning offers a fresh chance for joy and sorrow, and you never know which way the cards will fall.


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