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For sale: Piece of ghost town

Tim Mutrie

A portion of the ghost town of Independence, located nearly 20 miles east of Aspen and just shy of the Continental Divide, was put up for sale today for $2.5 million with Houston & O’Leary realtors.The privately owned portion of the old gold-mining town – which was incorporated in 1881, a year miners milled $100,000 in gold ore from Independence’s mines – is approximately 160 acres divided into seven parcels, surrounded entirely by National Forest, according to the real estate firm.”Parcel one contains part of the town of Independence and the historic buildings,” said Bonnie Chance, the listing realtor with Houston & O’Leary. “And parcel one is also the only possible place where someone could apply to build a cabin.”The Independence inholding has been owned by the Loughran family since the 1920s or 1930s, according to Al Grimshaw, lands and minerals officer with the Aspen Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service.”The family has treasured this pristine wilderness and hope that it’s protected under current use guidelines, with rural remote district zones established by Pitkin County,” Chance said. Such guidelines, she explained, would allow a buyer to apply for permission from Pitkin County to build a 1,200-square-foot cabin on the parcel. It would, however, be inaccessible by vehicle when Highway 82 over Independence Pass closes for the winter.Additionally, Chance said the mining claims on the property could generate six to eight TDRs, or transferable development rights. TDRs are a mechanism to transfer development from backcountry parcels to areas the county deems more suitable for development.According to Grimshaw, about three-quarters of the existing townsite of Independence is controlled by the U.S. Forest Service.”The majority of what townsite is still there is on Forest Service land,” Grimshaw said. “We would like to buy all [of the 160-acre inholding], but the reality is that we won’t get the funding to get it all.”Jennifer Pierce, a Pitkin County Open Space and Trails assistant, said yesterday she hadn’t heard about the listing.”We have not initiated contact with the landowner,” she said, “but I can tell you that one of our acquisition criteria is inholdings.””It would make a real nice edition to the National Forest to buy it all,” Grimshaw said, “but beyond the townsite portion, the surrounding land would have low priority for acquisition.”However, he noted that about 20 acres of the Independence inholdings are within wilderness areas. “Those lands would have a high-priority for acquisition,” he said.Three or four years ago, Grimshaw said he spoke with Mike Loughran, of Manitou Springs, spokesman for the family, about buying the family’s landholdings near Independence. The ghost town itself, near Independence Pass, is a tourist attraction.”I expressed interest in obtaining part of the private land up there … and since it does contain some of the townsite buildings, and since the town site is a listed national historic spot, I’m real confident that we could get the money, but we don’t have it now and it might take a couple of years.””They did not say no,” Grimshaw said of his discussions with the Loughran family. “They were still undecided about what they wanted to do.”Of the possibility of selling a portion of the land to the Forest Service, Chance said: “We would love to talk to the Forest Service, they should call us.”Grimshaw said he planned to again pursue negotiations for the Independence property.”The private land that they own became private through the mining laws many years ago,” Grimshaw explained. “A past relative of the present owners acquired the property in the 1920s or 1930s, and just held onto it all these years. After that party died, the property was held in the estate of the family for many years after.”The Aspen Historical Society maintains the Independence townsite for summer visitors.


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