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Bair Ranch a rare opportunity

Aspen Times writer

Dear Editor:

During the last 10 months, I have read and heard most of the reasons for and against the Bair Ranch project in Glenwood Canyon.

I’ve found that most people who oppose this simply lack understanding. They have been hit with the sound bites from the strong opposition of “no access,” “dude ranch,” “not visible” and “not developable.” They say our money should go to projects like Sylvan Lake instead.

Well, I ask, is Sylvan Lake highly visible? “Well, no.” Do you get into Sylvan Lake for free? “Of course not, it’s a State Park!” Have you seen Bair Ranch from Coffee Pot Road to see the wide open spaces that are prime for development? “Actually, I haven’t.” (The Bair Ranch has been identified in a study by the American Farmland Trust as “at risk for development by 2020.”) Did you know that the primary “commercial” activity on the ranch is sheep and that the Bairs offer very limited activity only to supplement their income? “Actually, no. I thought the sheep were long gone and that this was a full scale dude ranch.”

In regard to public access, Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) says it best in their strategic plan. “GOCO recognizes public access is not the primary objective of many land preservation projects nor is it always appropriate. This is especially true in the case of lands preserved with conservation easements, primarily agricultural land, where private landowners still own the property. Adequate public benefit is received in these cases from the preservation of wildlife habitat and view corridors.”

There are those who oppose this project simply because they oppose the tax-initiated by Referendum 1H. This is an easy one to defend. It is an argument for another time and another day. The fact of the matter is that the tax is being collected and based on the ballot language, the Bair Ranch project meets all of the criteria set forth in that referendum. Specifically, “… preserving wildlife habitat, protecting working farms and ranches, conserving scenic landscapes and vistas, protecting wetlands and floodplains, providing public access points to rivers and streams … .”

Then there are those that oppose this because they don’t like conservation easements. Conservation easements have been identified by GOCO as the method of choice for protecting open spaces. Because demand for GOCO grants has outpaced dollars available by 3-to-1, the board stated in their current strategic plan, “The Board prefers the use of permanent conservation easements, which allow GOCO funds to go further than with fee title acquisitions while at the same time contributing to maintaining a working landscape.”

While there are many parcels that are more desirable in Eagle County, to purchase these in fee would be cost prohibitive with open space tax dollars, currently generating approximately $3 million a year. The two that are frequently cited are the “gravel pit” in Edwards, which is currently under contract for $12 million, and the Jouflas property in Wolcott, which will require at least that much.

Eagle County has a rare opportunity to protect forever the 4,830 acres of the Bair Ranch. The facts dispute the sound bites, pure and simple. Listen carefully to the opposition and weigh their comments against the testimony provided by experts in the field – Department of Wildlife, BLM, GOCO, and Dr. Alan Carpenter (a naturalist who has spent hours examining the wildlife, flora and fauna on the ranch).

Jennifer Scroggins

Eagle


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