Carbondale won’t link Wexner trade, Crystal River trail |

Carbondale won’t link Wexner trade, Crystal River trail

John ColsonPost Independent Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE – The Town Board of Trustees here is not interested in linking two local controversies – the proposed Sutey-Two Shoes land swap and use of the old Crystal River Railroad bed for a trail.At a work session on Tuesday, the trustees declined a request from the town’s Bike-Pedestrian Trails advisory committee, known as BiPet, to link the two.The Town Hall meeting room was crowded with open space advocates, residents of the Crystal River Valley and government officials, said Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot.”I think it was a very productive meeting,” said Bernot. “It let people understand the issue again.”The BiPet Committee had drafted a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and to Pitkin County, suggesting that the two controversial issues be connected as a way to get a private section of the old Crystal River Railroad rail bed into public hands.The land swap is part of an effort by landowners Leslie and Abigail Wexner to consolidate their 4,400-acre Two Shoes Ranch at the base of Mount Sopris, south of Carbondale.The Wexners want to acquire 1,464 acres of BLM land that bisects two parts of their ranch.Leslie Wexner, an Ohio billionaire, is the CEO and chairman of the board of the Limited Brands apparel corporation. His local holdings, along with Two Shoes Ranch, also include an Aspen-area home.The Wexners have offered to trade the 557-acre Sutey Ranch, north of Carbondale, with its water rights, plus a 117-acre parcel at the base of the Crown southeast of Carbondale that is popular with mountain bikers, to the BLM.The couple originally intended to seek a congressional approval of the swap, but after butting heads with Pitkin County for more than a year in an effort to win the county’s endorsement of the trade, they opted for an administrative exchange to be reviewed and acted upon by the BLM.The Wexners have been buying property around the base of Mount Sopris for some time. They now own a stretch of the old Crystal River Railroad right-of-way, which once carried a narrow-gauge rail line that connected Carbondale to Marble.Although sections of the old rail bed are publicly owned, others are not. Local open space advocates have puzzled for decades over how to get the entire length of the rail bed into public ownership and use.By adding the rail bed to the land already being offered by the Wexners, in trade for the BLM land, the public would gain the Sutey ranch, the Crown property and the rail bed, while the Wexners would get the 1,464 acres of BLM land.Bernot, on hearing of the BiPet committee’s intentions, worried that the committee had not held discussions with the landowners, wildlife experts and others with interests in the issue.The matter came before the BiPet committee, she said, when Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Director Dale Will made a presentation to the committee last November.”In essence, they only had one side of the story,” she said, explaining that the BiPet group had not held meetings to gather public sentiments on the matter.She noted that BLM officials have stated, in a letter to Trustee John Hoffmann, that the two issues are not connected and should not be connected.The letter, Bernot said, was sent to Hoffmann in his capacity as a member of the West Elk Scenic & Historic Byway Commission, which has for years worked to establish a bicycle trail between Carbondale and Crested Butte.At the work session on March 20, two wildlife experts, John Grove of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Jonathan Lowsky, wildlife biologist, both cautioned the trustees that putting a paved trail along the old rail bed could prompt levels of use that would harm wildlife along the river corridor.Will said he was “disappointed” by the outcome of the work session, but that he still feels the old rail bed is a natural connection between public land just south of the BRB Campground property and another public parcel, an area known as Red Wind Point, farther south along the Crystal River.”It is my goal to restore public access on the old railroad grade,” Will said Friday, noting that he has the support of several area landowners and the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association.Will said he is not necessarily in favor of paving a trail along the old rail bed, since there is room for a trail in the Colorado Department of Transportation right of way for Highway 133.”But,” he added, “at least I feel we could have a soft-surface trail on the railroad grade.”Bernot said the trustees agreed “overwhelmingly,” with Hoffmann dissenting, that the town should not send a letter to the BLM asking that the railroad right of way issue be linked to the Wexner land swap

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