Eagle, Pitkin urge Forest Service not to sell parcel in El Jebel
Pitkin and Eagle counties are lobbying the U.S. Forest Service to keep land along the Roaring Fork River in El Jebel under its control rather than sell it.
Both counties said the property contains an important wetland that needs to be protected in perpetuity. The governments said they would be open to considering an agreement with the Forest Service that would place management of the property in the hands of local government jurisdictions, possibly in a partnership.
“The wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation benefits of this property are impressive,” said a comment submitted by Eagle County. “Ideally, Eagle County would like to see the Lower 40 in a permanent conserved ownership, one that protects habitat values and scenic qualities while allowing appropriate public access for outdoor recreation.”
The White River National Forest has proposed to sell two properties adjacent to Crown Mountain Park. A 40-acre parcel is along the river while a 30-acre parcel is on a bench above the river and along Valley Road.
The agency is seeking the sale because it says it cannot properly manage the property, which is an island of federal land on the valley floor. The property used to be part of the former Mount Sopris Tree Farm, which closed decades ago. Legislation passed by Congress allows the Forest Service to sell administrative sites it isn’t using and keep the funds within the forest for use on other projects.
The Forest Service is conducting an environmental impact statement on the proposed sale. That process includes public scoping, or gathering comments from concerned individuals and organizations.
White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams has pledged that the lower property won’t be sold without guaranteeing it will be conserved and public access will be maintained.
The counties, as well as Aspen Valley Land Trust and Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District, don’t want to take anything for granted. They all called for the property to be protected.
“The Lower Parcel provides critical riparian and wetland habitat, supports a federally threatened species of orchid, provides public access to the Roaring Fork River and has valuable water right attached to it,” Aspen Valley Land Trust said in its comments. The land conservancy urged the Forest Service to put a conservation easement rather than a deed restriction on the land at the time of sale.
Aspen Valley Land Trust and the two counties also said that a fishermen’s parking lot and wetland connected to the 30-acre parcel on the upper bench should be lumped in with the 40-acre lower parcel.
The Forest Service had hoped that Eagle County would be interested in purchasing the property, but that remains uncertain. Eagle County Open Space Director Toby Sprunk said the program might be interested if funds become available. However, the absence of an appraisal makes that difficult, he said in written comments.
Some of the entities also expressed concerns about the sale of the upper property to a buyer interested in high-density development. Pitkin County noted such a sale would add pressure on the lower parcel and change the rural character of the surrounding property.
The Forest Service will accept comments on the proposal through Jan. 20. Details on the project and a link for submitting comments can be found at http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=50663.
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