Conservancy to sell property |

Conservancy to sell property

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Journalism
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – The Windstar Land Conservancy is seeking to sell the 957-acre Windstar property bought by John Denver in the late 1970s. The asking price is $13.5 million.

The Conservancy also intends to gain approval from Pitkin County to allow for the construction of a single-family home on a 30-acre parcel while maintaining a conservation easement on the remaining 927 acres.

The proceeds from the sale would be split by the two nonprofit groups that control the Windstar Land Conservancy and own the land, the Windstar Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Institute.

“There are several prospective buyers,” said Marty Pickett, the executive director and general counsel of RMI. “We are getting a lot of interest.”

Denver bought the ranch property so the Windstar Foundation, which he formed in 1976, could create “a place up in the mountains where people would come to develop a critical consciousness in regard to the earth,” according to Denver in his autobiography, “Take Me Home.”

Today, however, the Windstar Foundation is but a shell of Denver’s vision.

“It’s Camelot days are over,” said Karmen Dopslaff, the vice president of the Windstar Foundation board.

Dopslaff said the Windstar board plans to give its half of the money from a sale of the land to local organizations doing work consistent with the Windstar Foundation’s vision and then shut down.

“We kind of went to sleep for a few years,” Dopslaff said. “But there are really lots of other organizations doing its work. Why not support those folks?”

But the decision to sell the land that at the center of one of John Denver’s dreams was hard, Dopslaff said.

“It broke my heart when we were being pushed into selling,” she said.

Today, RMI has 20 employees working on the Windstar property, in a 1952 ranch house turned office building, and it has another 50 employees in Boulder. RMI is designing a new 20,000-square-foot office building it intends to construct in Basalt.

As part of process of finding a buyer to the Windstar property, RMI intends to submit an application to Pitkin County for approval of an “activity envelope” that would specify where a single-family home could be located on the 30-acre parcel, which has been designated as an appropriate location for a nonprofit facility since 1979.

The county commissioners also might be asked to amend the conservation easement to allow for limited trailhead parking on the 30-acre parcel, which would make it easy for the public to continue to a hike and horseback ride on the 927 acres of conserved land.

Some people close to Windstar feel that a single-family home on the property is not at all what Denver envisioned and that selling to another nonprofit that would continue to care for the land and educate people about the stewardship of Mother Earth would be a better, if less likely, choice.

“We would be thrilled if ACES would buy it,” Dopslaff said.

The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies now runs its programs on four pieces of protected property in the valley – Hallam Lake in Aspen, Toklat at Ashcroft, Rock Bottom Ranch along the lower Roaring Fork River and Spring Creek in the Fryingpan River valley.

On the other hand, others feel that if proceeds from the sale help RMI and other nonprofits carry on and do good work, then all’s well that ends well.

“Trying to second-guess what John would have wanted is hard,” said John Katzenberger, who worked at Windstar from 1979 to 1989, including as managing director, and now runs the Aspen Global Change Institute. “It’s like trying to read his mind. and I can’t do that. He had a practical side, too, but I don’t know how he would have reacted.”

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