Droste purchase clears first step in Pitkin County | AspenTimes.com

Droste purchase clears first step in Pitkin County

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Courtesy Pitkin County

ASPEN – The first $500,000 allocation toward what one Pitkin County commissioner termed potentially the most important local open space purchase ever won initial approval Wednesday from county commissioners.

An ordinance authorizing a three-phase purchase contract for the 742-acre Droste property above the Brush Creek Valley near Snowmass Village, and a $500,000 expenditure for the first piece, was approved 3-0 on first reading by the three commissioners present – George Newman, Jack Hatfield and Michael Owsley. Second reading and final approval is scheduled Aug. 25, though the subsequent expenditures of county Open Space and Trails funds – an anticipated $10 million in all – will get formal approval later.

The county is the main player in a plan that also calls for at least $1 million from the city of Aspen, $2 million from Snowmass Village (pending an approval by voters there) and $2.5 million that hinges on a Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant. That leaves at least $2.5 million to be raised privately – a sum the county Open Space and Trails Program could cover, but doesn’t intend to, said director Dale Will.

“We’d flatten the fund, and we have a big docket,” he said.

“We’re going to do $10 million, and we’re going to raise the rest from the community,” said Tim McFlynn, chairman of the county Open Space and Trails board of trustees. “We gave a game plan to do that.”

Open space officials have been waiting for formal action from commissioners on the purchase plan before initiating a fundraising effort, according to Will.

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Such a campaign is not unprecedented, but officials will apparently be focusing on contributors with bigger bank accounts than they did in a 1997 drive to raise public money for the purchase of the Hummingbird Lode, a 10-acre private inholding on a ridge above the Hunter Creek Valley near Aspen.

“I’m not going to name names,” McFlynn said, “but there’s some significant folks who look at that ridge from both sides.”

The Droste parcel, where nine home sites have been approved, sprawls the ridge between the Brush Creek and Owl Creek valleys, offering expansive views and tying together various pieces of open space on which local governments have spent millions of dollars over the years.

The fundraising campaign will be done quietly, in living rooms, McFlynn said.

The very public Hummingbird campaign, in which the community was to contribute $868,000, fell well short of its goal. In the end, 316 donors gave $96,564; pledges from another 10 accounted for $71,550.

The city and county, which each agreed to put up $866,000 at the outset, wound up covering the shortfall. In all, $2.6 million was spent on the parcel; the owners donated half of the $5.2 million purchase price. In that fund drive, many donors gave relatively small sums.

“It represents a cross section of the community, from the very wealthy to those who struggle to pay their rent in this town. That is exactly what we’d hoped for,” said Jane Ellen Hamilton at the time. She was then at the helm of the Open Space and Trails Program.

On Wednesday, Newman expressed hope that Snowmass Village voters will embrace the purchase when they go to the polls in November.

“This is going to be, maybe, the most significant piece, because it ties everything together,” said Hatfield, a Snowmass Village resident, who called the purchase the “opportunity of a lifetime.”

With the $500,000 first phase, the county will acquire 108 acres sandwiched between the Cozy Point South open space, at the east end of the Brush Creek Valley, and airport property, allowing a trail corridor up and over the ridge near the airport radar tower, connecting the Brush Creek and Owl Creek drainages. It would also complete an equestrian trail easement paralleling the Brush Creek bike trail. The expenditure also secures the options to purchase the rest of the Droste property.

“If we end at phase one, we’re going to have an equestrian trail up over this mountain and up the Brush Creek trail,” McFlynn said. “That’s not a bad ending.”

The Droste parcel complements the city-owned Cozy Point Ranch, a nearby equestrian property, McFlynn added.

“It allows that investment to really begin to pay off,” he said.

Equestrian uses, mountain biking and hiking are all envisioned for the Droste property, though a wintertime closure is anticipated to protect elk migration and habitat. The proposed name for the open space, Wapiti Ridge Mountain Park, gives a nod to the elk that use it (wapiti is an American Indian word for elk).

As the purchase contract is currently structured, another $9.5 million would be due Dec. 15 for five lots on the ridge, though the Drostes have offered an expedited purchase of two lots by Sept. 30 for $4.5 million, apparently to help them cover debt, Will said. They will throw in an irrigated meadow toward the upper end of the valley that wasn’t originally part of the deal if the county opts for the early purchase, Will said. The option is being evaluated.

As the contract stands now, the final $8 million would be due Dec. 15, 2011, for the balance of four lots and the remaining acreage.

The property is not currently open to unfettered public access, though Open Space and Trails has been leading visits to the site, showing it to representatives of the various players in the purchase.

“This property, for everyone who has visited it with the idea of purchasing it as open space in mind, has been selling itself,” Will said. “This property pulls together a lot of upper-valley open space.”

janet@aspentimes.com