Deal to save Bair Ranch approved | AspenTimes.com
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Deal to save Bair Ranch approved

Janet Urquhart

Endorsing a future that guarantees at least one longtime family ranch won’t be carved up for sprawling development, Eagle County Commissioner Michael Gallagher voted to preserve Bair Ranch on Tuesday.

Seen as the swing vote on a divided Board of County Commissioners, Gallagher dismissed a host of pros and cons to the $2 million open space purchase, simply concluding the opportunity to prevent development of some 4,800 acres at the mouth of Glenwood Canyon is worth the price.

The decision earned a round of cheers from observers.

The $5.1 million deal, which places a conservation easement on most of the land, hinged on Eagle County’s participation. The balance is coming from a coalition of sources: $1.5 million from the Bureau of Land Management, $25,000 from Garfield County and $1 million from Great Outdoors Colorado. The Eagle Valley Land Trust, working with The Conservation Fund, has committed to raise the remainder (about $137,000 must still be raised by the July 7 closing).

“The fact that we can, for very well leveraged money, say that these thousands of acres will never be developed is my reason for supporting this expenditure,” Gallagher said.

The purchase is the first major expenditure from the county’s open space fund, created when voters approved an open space tax in November 2002.

Commissioners Arn Menconi and Tom Stone had been sharply split on the Bair Ranch easement, with Stone casting the sole vote against the expenditure after one last attempt to amend the deal yesterday.

He proposed only sheep ranching be allowed to take place on the 2,794 acres of the main ranch parcel that lies in Eagle County. The ranch straddles the Eagle-Garfield County line.

The Bairs’ guest or dude ranch operation shouldn’t be permitted on the property, Stone said.

He garnered no support for the proposal from his fellow commissioners; fourth-generation rancher Craig Bair said later that the amendment would have scuttled the whole deal.

Stone had decried the use of open space dollars to subsidize a dude ranch and lamented the lack of public access to most of the property, though 512 acres stretching from the confluence of the Colorado and Eagle rivers at Dotsero into the east end of the canyon will become BLM land.

The other most visible piece of the ranch – at the Bair Ranch exit on Interstate 70 – is located in Garfield County. The bulk of the property located in Eagle County can’t be readily seen, Stone complained.

“It might as well be in Montana, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

“You can walk right outside of this building, look to the west and you can see the property,” Bair countered. “Mr. Stone doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Bair, who first entered talks with the land trust in December 2000, said he was surprised to see the issue denigrate into personal attacks before the debate was done.

“It shouldn’t have been a personal deal. It shouldn’t have had anything to do with Craig Bair. It shouldn’t have been about sheep,” he said. “It’s an issue of whether you want to stop development.”

Bair’s older brother, who wants to sell his ranch holdings, was driving the need to do something with the ranch. LeGrande Bair offered his lands to Craig for $2.3 million.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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