Aspen Valley Land Trust says swap is best chance to preserve Sutey Ranch
CARBONDALE – One of the leading land conservation agencies in the region believes a proposed land swap that would turn over 1,268 acres of public land to a private landowner is the best way to preserve the 520-acre Sutey Ranch north of Carbondale.
“This is a fabulous opportunity,” Aspen Valley Land Trust Executive Director Martha Cochran said during a public presentation on the proposed Sutey-Two Shoes land swap before the Carbondale Board of Trustees on March 2. “We do all want to protect the wildlife habitat there. And, if this doesn’t happen, there’s going to be a subdivision on the Sutey Ranch.”
The AVLT has backed the exchange proposed by billionaire entrepreneur Leslie Wexner, owner of the two Carbondale-area ranches, saying it would retain the best potential for public recreation opportunities on the Sutey property, which sits adjacent to the popular Red Hill Recreation Area.
However, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Director Dale Will said the AVLT and others who support the exchange are overlooking the prospect of finding grants and other monetary resources to put the Sutey property in the public trust short of doing the land exchange.
“My quibble is that I believe [Cochran and the AVLT’s] views on the prospect of resources to get this parcel otherwise are fatalistic,” Will said at the meeting, where Carbondale trustees upheld their previous support of the Wexner land trade.
Pitkin County has refused to endorse Wexner’s proposal on the grounds that more public land would be lost than gained, and would further limit public access to U.S. Forest Service land on the north flank of Mount Sopris.
In exchange for giving up the Sutey parcel, which Wexner purchased a few years ago for $6.5 million, he would receive 1,268 acres of rugged Bureau of Land Management land at the base of Mount Sopris that splits his existing 4,400-acre Two Shoes property.
“We have worked for 20 years to acquire 2,700 acres of open space in Pitkin County, and this proposal would be the equivalent of losing half of the lands we have been able to acquire,” Will said of Pitkin County’s open space program, which is funded by a special mill levy.
Some of that land that has been preserved is in Garfield County, including parts of the Jerome Park conservation easement west of Carbondale. So, it’s not out of the question that Pitkin County and the AVLT could work together to acquire the Sutey Ranch, which also is in Garfield County.
“We just don’t think [the exchange] is necessary to accomplish this,” Will said. “There are several pots of money that can be tapped. … We can raise the money when we have the time, and we will do it.”
But the AVLT board of directors and staff, in a guest commentary that appeared in the Post Independent on March 2, said the likelihood of raising the money needed to acquire Sutey is remote.
“AVLT worked for more than four years without success to secure the conservation of the Sutey Ranch,” they wrote. “The high cost and Sutey family issues were prohibitive, and the ranch went on the market for development. It was a true gift when Two Shoes Ranch agreed to buy the Sutey Ranch and include it in a BLM land exchange.”
Left unpreserved and in private hands, the Sutey parcel could have development potential for 80 houses or more under Garfield County zoning.
In the land exchange deal, Wexner has also offered to provide a $1 million endowment to the BLM to ensure long-term management of the Sutey Ranch and would donate $100,000 for preparation of a management plan.
Because it involves federal lands, the land exchange will ultimately require an act of Congress to be approved.
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