BLM reversal in land swap puzzles Open Space board |

BLM reversal in land swap puzzles Open Space board

Jeremy Heiman

The Bureau of Land Management has withdrawn its offer to participate in an Ashcroft land swap.

One year ago, the BLM expressed willingness to include a 40-acre parcel on the Crystal River, known as “parcel 79,” in a trade. The transaction was intended to bring the Ryan parcel, a 35-acre tract in the heart of Ashcroft Ski Touring land, into U.S. Forest Service hands. But in a Jan. 16 letter, new BLM Field Manager Anne Huebner abruptly withdrew parcel 79 from the exchange.

The letter, addressed to Pitkin County Open Space Director Dale Will and Martha Ketelle, forest supervisor, refers to “potential controversy” with using parcel 79 in the deal. It also states that “there are National Forest parcels that could be available for accomplishing the exchange without the use of … parcel 79.”

BLM officials were not available Thursday to comment.

Will said the withdrawal of parcel 79 won’t kill the Ryan deal, but it may delay it.

The Open Space program and the Aspen Valley Land Trust became owners of the Ryan parcel in February 2000, but the deal’s not done.

“It’s forcing us to re-engineer the swap,” Will said. He said the Forest Service is still optimistic about the exchange.

But the delay will cost money because the land trust borrowed money to purchase its portion.

“The interest clock is running,” Will said.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Ann Morgan, Colorado BLM director, Pitkin County expresses disappointment with the federal agency’s reversal. The letter was signed by county commission chairman Mick Ireland and open space board chairman Hawk Greenway. The county’s letter is firmly worded.

“We view the 11th hour reversal of BLM’s commitment to be arbitrary and unjustified,” it reads. “We request that you take immediate action to clarify the BLM’s readiness to cooperate with Pitkin County and the Forest Service to initiate the land trade … “

The BLM land would have been used to balance the value of land traded by the Forest Service for the Ryan parcel. The Open Space program and the land trust purchased the Ryan parcel from a private owner with the expectation that BLM cooperation was assured.

The Forest Service agreed to trade a nearby National Forest parcel on Devaney Creek to the two land preservation agencies. The Devaney tract could then be sold for a homesite, so that the county and AVLT could get their money back.

But the Ryan land has been appraised at $3.2 million, while the Devaney parcel, even with a development approval, is informally valued at $1.75 million. To balance the trade, the discussion turned to parcel 79. Other small parcels could enter the deal once accurate appraisals are completed, Will said.

The BLM tract, located six miles up the Crystal River and immediately south of the BRB Campground, was considered a perfect candidate for preservation by the Open Space program. Its values are in recreation, wildlife habitat and a long stretch of riverbank.

“This is one of the few places on the Crystal that has natural stream banks,” Will said. Other stretches of river are fortified with scrap marble and other debris.

Because the tract is isolated from other BLM land, the agency placed the land on a list of property to be disposed of.

Will said Huebner’s letter withdrawing the land was not anticipated. In an October letter, Huebner had confirmed the agency’s willingness to participate in the deal.

The Ryan parcel, formerly owned by the estate of skiing pioneer Ted Ryan, is located halfway between the King Cabin and the Pine Creek Cookhouse, on the west side of Castle Creek Road. Key cross-country ski trails cross part of the property maintained by Ashcroft Ski Touring, which leased the property from the estate.

David Middleton, owner of the Elk Mountain Lodge at Ashcroft, contracted to buy the parcel to prevent its development about four years ago when it appeared it would be sold for a luxury home. The Forest Service had promised to try to purchase the property from Middleton, but later the agency informed Middleton it couldn’t purchase the land.

Pitkin County approved use of the Open Space funds to purchase the land in October 1999.

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Posted: Friday, March 2, 2001

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