Intriguing list of uses emerges for Basalt open space
BASALT – Property on the outskirts of Basalt that was once eyed for 50 or so residences could instead have a nordic ski trail this winter as well as seasonal hiking trails, a hay field and even a community garden as early as next year.
Basalt and Pitkin County are working on a management plan for the Sopris Chase site, also known as the Downey property, a 25-acre parcel just to west of Basalt High School.
Basalt Town Manager Bill Kane said the acquisition of the land creates an exciting list of possible uses related to the primary goal – preserving it as open space. The land is bounded by the Grange family ranch to the north, Bureau of Land Management holdings on Light Hill to the south and the school campus to the east.
Pitkin County Open Space and Trails contributed $1.1 million to the purchase of the land last summer while Basalt added $400,000, evenly split between its open space fund and water fund.
The town is installing a water tank farther up the hillside, on BLM land, to serve the Southside subdivision. It initially negotiated with the former owners of the private property for an easement for the water line, but ended up buying the entire 25 acres instead. The sellers were Dick Downey and Nadine Coopersmith.
A development firm called Western Peak had an option to buy the Downey property at one time. The firm proposed the Sopris Chase residential project, which would have provided replacement housing for the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park, which Western Peak also owns and intends to redevelop.
Basalt rejected the Sopris Chase plan because it said the property was outside the desired urban growth boundary.
Now that the site is in public hands, a committee is working on a management plan. Kane said he is particularly enthused about designating a half-acre or so for a community garden.
“Billy Grange [the neighboring rancher] has reminded us this is some of the most fertile land in the valley,” Kane said. Sediment has run off Light Hill for countless years, covering the valley floor in rich soil.
Kane said the town is working with the high school to gauge the interest in a community garden. The relocation of the compost site from the Emma open space to the Sopris Chase parcel will be considered as a compatible use with the garden.
The Grange family has leased six acres of the site for hay production from the private property owners for years. The town and county want to continue leasing the land to the ranch because preserving agricultural lands is a major goal of their open space programs.
One of the quickest dividends from the public acquisition of the property might be cross-country skiing. A formal request will be prepared for Basalt and the county open space program to see if a trail can be set this winter. The concept is to make a loop on the property that would take advantage of the gentle slope on the lower hillside, Kane said. The Rio Grande Trail, with some parking, is nearby, providing great access.
Trail use during seasons other than winter is a trickier issue. The neighboring BLM land on Light Hill is important elk habitat, used for winter range and for calving, according to Kane. The Colorado Division of Wildlife doesn’t want wildlife disturbed, so it is urging the town to proceed with caution on a trail network on the Sopris Chase property. Kane said the town and county will likely develop trails that have seasonal closures in the spring, during calving, and during late fall and winters. The nordic track, lower on the property, would not create a conflict.
The Sopris Chase acquisition will provide benefits to Basalt, regardless of what uses ultimately occur, Kane said.
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