Ashcroft property goes back on the market |

Ashcroft property goes back on the market

Jeremy Heiman

A key piece of property in the middle of the Ashcroft Ski Touring area is on the market again.

That means a new megahome in the scenic upper Castle Creek Valley is once again a possibility.

David Middleton, who bought the so-called Ryan property to prevent just that possibility, said he has little choice but to put the land up for sale. He can no longer afford to hold onto the property because of the size of the interest payments, he said.

Middleton and other local interests have tried without success to find a conservation-oriented buyer or accomplish a land swap to put the parcel in the hands of the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the surrounding land used by the nordic ski area.

The 35-acre parcel was formerly owned by the estate of skiing pioneer Ted Ryan. Key cross country ski trails cross part of the property under a lease to Ashcroft Ski Touring.

Middleton, owner of the Elk Mountain Lodge near Ashcroft, bought the parcel to prevent its development over a year and a half ago when it appeared it would be sold for a luxury home. At that time, he hoped the Forest Service would be able to buy the property.

The parcel is listed with Perry Harvey of Mason and Morse Real Estate. Harvey said the parcel went on the market just this week, for $3.9 million. That’s $1.3 million more than Middleton’s purchase price. Harvey said he’s gotten several nibbles on the property already.

Some potential buyers have said they realize some access, such as a trail easement, across the property would be desirable, Middleton said.

Middleton expressed frustration that no one has come up with a satisfactory way to preserve the property. Attempts to work out a land swap with the Forest Service fell through because federal regulations can delay a trade for as long as three years. The consent of Congress must be obtained for a land exchange, explained Al Grimshaw, a lands acquisition expert in the Aspen Ranger District of the Forest Service. The required environmental impact assessment process is time consuming, as well, he said.

At one point, Middleton said, he discussed with Forest Service officials the idea of changing the shape of the parcel by trading part of the land with surrounding Forest Service property, putting the ski trails on federal land.

It turned out that plan would require the same amount of red tape and time as a full land swap, Middleton said.

The Aspen Skiing Co. did express interest in buying the land and swapping it to the Forest Service for land on Aspen Mountain that the Skico now leases.

“In reality, we think that would not fly,” Grimshaw said. Middleton said Forest Service officials told him they want to keep an interest in Aspen Mountain. Presently, only about 20 percent of the Aspen Mountain ski area is on Forest Service land.

Though he has failed to put the property in safe hands permanently, Middleton said he has accomplished some of his major objectives with his ownership of the parcel. One of those objectives was to prevent the snowplowing of Castle Creek Road beyond the King Cabin at Ashcroft Ski Touring. The road from that point is used by skiers to access the valley beyond the touring area.

He said before he put the parcel up for sale, he applied for a development approval from Pitkin County, which permits him to propose a location for any development on the land.

Middleton said he and Ashcroft Ski Touring owner John Wilcox have designed a driveway, to be used in the event a house is built on the property, that would exit Castle Creek Road north of the King Cabin and follow the alignment of one of the ski trails, avoiding the section of road used by skiers. That alignment would allow the majority of the present ski trails to remain intact.

The location for a house Middleton proposed is out of sight behind an aspen grove.

Lynne Mace, co-owner of the nearby Toklat Gallery, expressed both resignation and hope now that the parcel is back on the market.

“We’ve worked for four years to get it into public hands,” Mace said. “David can’t afford to hold it.

“We’ll hope it’s bought by somebody who cares deeply, and will build just a little house on it,” she said.

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