Institute has obligation to public at Windstar |

Institute has obligation to public at Windstar

The Rocky Mountain Institute and the Windstar Land Conservancy are closing in on a deal to sell the 957-acre Windstar property, once purchased by John Denver.

Before that sale is complete, the institute should take a small step to ensure that the public retains reasonable access to the 927 acres of the property held under a conservation easement.

The easement was given in December 1996 to the Aspen Valley Land Trust and Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, then in its infancy. The legal work was lacking in at least one critical area: While the public was granted the right to use trails on the 927 acres in perpetuity, nothing was done to secure parking for the public to access the trails.

The current parking is located on a portion of the 30 acres that isn’t covered by the conservation easement. There is no guarantee that the buyer of the property will continue to grant parking once the institute relocates its offices off the property, which the sales contract says will happen within two years after the deal is complete. The institute plans to build a new office building in Basalt.

So, while the public will have the right to walk the beautiful grounds that helped inspire John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High,” it might not be able to park there to access the property. Parking on the adjacent private property or along narrow Snowmass Creek Road isn’t an option.

One concerned neighbor has compared the scenario to California beach disputes. In some areas, the beaches are open to the public, but private landowners force the public to go miles out of its way for access.

There’s been a lot of debate in recent years over whether Denver would have wanted the Windstar property to be sold. We won’t pretend to have any insight into what the late, great singer and songwriter would have wanted. (We note, however, that he once sold the property to the National Wildlife Federation.) It seems clear, given Denver’s values, that he wouldn’t want the public shut off from the 927 acres by the private owner of 30 acres of the Windstar land.

The institute can make access a nonissue. Before the sale is complete, the institute needs to amend the conservation easement with the two entities that hold it and spell out that modest parking will be provided in perpetuity. Shame on Rocky Mountain Institute representatives for not addressing the issue before the property went under contract. There is ample evidence that institute officials were aware of inadequacies of access.

We don’t see the amendment of the easement to allow parking as a deal breaker before the sale is completed later this month. The buyer or buyers, who haven’t been identified, certainly are aware that the public has access to the 927 acres. It’s reasonable to assume that parking for a handful of vehicles should be allowed on mutually agreeable ground.

The Rocky Mountain Institute shouldn’t let inattention to the parking-and-access issue taint its reputation.

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