Forest Service won’t sell riverside land after all
EL JEBEL – The U.S. Forest Service has decided not to sell riparian land along the Roaring Fork River because of the discovery of a rare, threatened plant.
The property is on a lower bench between the river and Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel. The Forest Service wants to sell its holdings in that area to help raise funds to build a new office and visitors center in Aspen.
The Forest Service was working through the National Environmental Policy Act process, which included a thorough inventory of the property, when the plant was discovered.
“It’s exciting stuff. It throws a little curve ball” into the plan, said White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams.
If the sale were to proceed, the agency must follow strict rules for disposing of property with a plant covered by the Endangered Species Act, Fitzwilliams said. Instead he and his staff decided to withdraw it from the lands available for sale.
“It will stay as part of the national forest system,” Fitzwilliams said.
The Forest Service doesn’t want the rare plant identified because it doesn’t want to draw attention to the property.
The riparian land is about 40 acres. Additional lands adjacent to Crown Mountain Park and accessible from Valley Road remain available for sale. That property, about 28 acres, includes a horse pasture across from Summit Vista subdivision, a housing complex for Forest Service workers and a storage yard and additional pasture west of the housing complex.
The upper bench will be put up for competitive bid for interested buyers, possibly as soon as this summer, according to Fitzwilliams. His office is waiting for an appraisal performed by Forest Service lands experts.
“We really want to see what the market will bring,” Fitzwilliams said. “We’re still very much in need of funds for the development of the Aspen office.”
The rare plant discovered on the property was listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in January 1992, according to a report prepared for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency in 2005. Since 1992, its numbers have increased. A map in the report indicated it wasn’t common in the Roaring Fork Valley.
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It’s that time of year — hikers and mountain bikers must be aware that seasonal closures are taking effect on multiple trails in the area today for the winter for the benefit of wildlife.