Elk, nordic skiers reap benefits of easement | AspenTimes.com

Elk, nordic skiers reap benefits of easement

Developer Gerald Hines’ decision to place a conservation easement on 300 acres of pristine forest will pay dividends to nordic skiers this winter and to wildlife forever.

Hines, developer of Aspen Highlands Village and Carbondale’s River Valley Ranch, is donating the conservation easement to the Aspen Valley Land Trust.

Once completed, the deal will mean development rights are forever snuffed on the forest land between West Buttermilk and Burnt Mountain, in the hills above Owl Creek Valley.

“No matter who owns the underlying land and what changes there are in government, [development] won’t be available on that land,” said AVLT Executive Director Reid Haughey. “It survives political whims.”

Haughey said the Colorado Division of Wildlife identified the land as critical calving area for the Burnt Mountain elk herd.

“This is a neonatal ward for elk,” said Haughey.

He said the property ranks as one of the most important wildlife habitats among all properties held by AVLT, one of the oldest land trusts in Colorado.

Hines agreed to grant the easement in 1993 when Pitkin County government reviewed his land-use application for a development known as the Reservoir at West Buttermilk.

Hines has received two rounds of approvals for eight house lots clustered on 30 acres that are adjacent to the 300-acre neonatal ward. He is seeking final plat approval Dec. 15. There’s also an existing cabin on the land.

Haughey said the 30 acres slated for development are effectively cut off from the other 300 acres by a ridge. That helps ensure that the wildlife habitat is left undisturbed.

Haughey, a former manager of Pitkin County government, said the Reservoir at West Buttermilk could be a model development – in large part due to the favorable ratio of preservation to development.

“Those kind of proportions are proportions we don’t typically see,” he said.

In addition, the house lots were picked with the help of the Division of Wildlife. But it’s not just wildlife that will benefit from the deal. Hines has also encouraged use of the property for nordic skiing. Although no agreement has been signed yet, Hines has verbally agreed to allow creation of a track on the 300 acres that will be incorporated into the local nordic system, according to Ben Dodge, Nordic Trails coordinator for the city of Aspen.

Dodge couldn’t be happier. “It’s the type of skiing that skiers really want,” he said of the high, wooded terrain.

Not a spade of dirt nor a single tree has to be moved to establish a trail on the property, said Dodge. Nearly 4 kilometers of trail will be set on the property. For sake of comparison, there are about 4.5 kilometers on the Aspen Golf Course.

Dodge said the Hines property is secluded and scenic with gently rolling hills punctuated by a couple big uphills and steep descents. The terrain will accommodate skiers with “advanced beginner” skills and beyond – anyone who can control their speed.

The trail will be set by snowmobile and occasionally groomed by a Snowcat. It will be set either for classic skiing or skate skiing only, not both, said Dodge. No decision has been made yet.

No amenities, such as a warming hut, will be developed on the property for the nordic trail. But bathrooms and a restaurant are located at the West Buttermilk base.

A clearly marked trailhead will be established for the nordic trail just west of the West Buttermilk lift’s base.

All use of the 300 acres will be prohibited from approximately April 30 to July 1, during elk calving activity.

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