Last island of private land in Mt. Massive Wilderness purchased and transferred to Forest Service

Site located along popular trail on east side of Independence Pass

Workers with Wilderness Land Trust check out two mining claims the organization purchased along the North Fork of Lake Creek on the east side of Independence Pass. The land was purchased by the conservation organization and is being sold to the U.S. Forest Service.
WLT/courtesy photo

The last remaining inholding of private property in the Mount Massive Wilderness is in the process of being transferred to ownership of the U.S. Forest Service.

The move is significant because the 20-acre property is on the east side of Independence Pass and a popular trail cuts through it. The transfer to the Forest Service assures that the trail won’t have to be relocated.

A conservation group called the Wilderness Land Trust acquired the property along the North Fork of Lake Creek Trail in 2012. It is working with the Forest Service to complete a sale to the federal agency in a deal expected to close this week, according to Kelly Conde, a lands specialist with the nonprofit group.

Wilderness Land Trust acquired two adjoining mining claims, the Bessie Lode and Brother Lode, for $10,000. The sale price to the Forest Service is $11,000.

“We always have to worry about replenishing our funds,” Conde said.

The transfer took time because of steps required of the federal agency and other priorities.

The two mining claims are located about 1.5 miles from the trailhead for the North Fork Lake Creek Trail. That trailhead is located along a switchback on the east side of Independence Pass and is popular among hikers from the Roaring Fork Valley.

Inholdings within wilderness have become an apple in the eyes of investment companies in Colorado and elsewhere in the West, Conde said. The trend has really evolved in the past few years as property values have soared. Investment companies offer amounts higher than the secluded properties have been valued at and then market them to people seeking cabins for private getaways.

In addition to the threat of residential development, inholdings within wilderness areas can potentially be sites for logging and mineral extraction, which require access roads. That poses a threat to wilderness characteristics, where motorized and mechanized uses are prohibited.

“Every inholding has some possibility of that,” Conde said.

Former Aspenite Jon Mulford founded Wilderness Land Trust in 1992 to acquire inholdings in wilderness areas and get them in the hands of public agencies. In Colorado, Wilderness Land Trust has acquired 143 parcels comprising 6,111 acres and transferred those holdings to 19 wilderness or proposed wilderness areas, according to the organization.

“We don’t just operate in Colorado, however,” Andy Wiessner, an Old Snowmass resident and member of the organization’s board of directors, said in a statement. “Since our inception, we have completed more than 522 transactions, covering more than 55,000 acres in every western state.”

Wilderness Land Trust staff is proud to finally rid the Mount Massive Wilderness of inholdings. The wilderness area didn’t have many inholdings despite extensive mining on its fringes, Conde said.

U.S. Congress designated the Mount Massive Wilderness in 1980. It has a total of 30,540 acres and includes Mount Massive, the state’s second highest peak. The wilderness area borders the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness to the west.

Despite soaring property values, Conde said Wilderness Land Trust aims to remain active in acquiring inholdings.

“We have a lot of work going on in Colorado and hope it will continue,” she said.