Give elk at Bair Chase a break
December 28, 2006
Aspen, CO ColoradoDeveloper Pat Smith has a chance to make good on his word, so long as he heeds the words a Colorado Division of Wildlife representative spoke last winter.DOW spokesman Randy Hampton noted the loss of winter range for wildlife in the Roaring Fork Valley in a story about the elk herd that winters on the plateau above the confluence of Cattle Creek and the Roaring Fork River. Bair Chase, once known as Sanders Ranch, is the name of the 280-acre winter home to a local elk herd and the subject of dismally conceived grand development plans. “We are very concerned about the loss of winter range in the Roaring Fork Valley,” Hampton said.Smith is set to purchase Bair Chase for $18.5 million, sources close to the deal tell The Aspen Times. If he and his financial backers do eventually develop the property, they have a chance to make good on Smith’s stated desire to connect better with our community. Protecting elk herd would do much for their reputation here.Bair Chase is one of the most abused properties in the valley. A development group based in Texas put plow to the land in the middle of the winter of 2005, demolishing a historic barn and tearing up the native vegetation even as the elk were wintering there. The project came to a screeching halt in the summer of 2005, after financing dried up.The elk herd returned last winter to what was essentially a frozen block of mud. The only food available was the undisturbed grass and sage between the highway and the railroad tracks. Many were hit by cars and trucks over the course of the winter. This year, some of the vegetation has returned, as have the elk. How they’ll fare remains to be seen.If Smith in fact buys Bair Chase and its development approvals, he will have permission to build a golf course and hundreds of residential units. There are plenty of options for developing the property that are both profitable to investors and mindful of the land’s wildlife value – a few less homes, a less extravagant golf course, cooperation with the Colorado Department of Transportation to make the area safer for elk and motorists. Hopefully, he will do something that is mindful of the wildlife – all creatures great and small – that has occupied the land for centuries.While there is no reason to suspect Pat Smith’s intentions as a major developer in our valley, the fact that he owns nearly all of the commercial property in Snowmass Village has raised eyebrows. A few wrong steps, and he could unleash a storm of citizen activism that will sink his plans and his profits. One way he can make good with this community is to protect the herd that spends its winters on Bair Chase.