Forest Service wise for altering position on land sale |

Forest Service wise for altering position on land sale

The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

The White River National Forest supervisor’s office deserves credit for realizing it entered quicksand and finding a way out rather than stubbornly plowing forward.

The supervisor’s office disclosed earlier this year that it was considering the sale of 81 acres of land at the old Mount Sopris Tree Farm property in El Jebel to help fund redevelopment of the office and visitor center in Aspen.

Commissioners from Pitkin and Eagle counties expressed unease about the sale, specifically the fate of 51 acres of riparian land along the Roaring Fork River. The potential sale was also stirring a significant amount of unrest among midvalley residents, who weren’t keen on sacrificing a prized piece of property to help the federal agency out of its funding dilemma.

Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams pledged from the beginning that the 51 acres of riparian area wouldn’t be developed even if it was sold. He went a step further Tuesday in a meeting with the Pitkin County commissioners and promised public access to the riparian area would be retained. He also said it is possible the river-side part of the property won’t even be sold. The agency is still assessing its options.

Fitzwilliams has been at the helm of the White River National Forest for less than two years but he is a quick study. He knows what battles to pick. He wisely determined it was unnecessary to fight the public over potential loss of the riparian lands.

We understand the Forest Service is in a tough financial position. It basically is forced to rely on bake sales because of its low level of Congressional funding for such projects as the Aspen redevelopment. We are wary of the agency resorting to land sales to produce revenue because of the precedent it will set. And we are dead-set against selling lands valuable like the 51 acres along the river unless public access is retained.

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