Midvalley open space deal sparks varying opinions
BASALT – Pitkin County’s proposed participation in a midvalley open space purchase, of land that is in Eagle County but would offer recreational access to property within Pitkin County, has generated both support and opposition among members of the public.Pitkin and Eagle counties and the town of Basalt have secured a $5 million contract to purchase about 145 acres referred to as the Saltonstall property. It’s located upvalley from Rock Bottom Ranch, extending from Hooks Spur Road up onto the Crown.One neighbor has written a letter to county officials to express his concern, while Basalt resident David Brown wrote a letter to the editor (see Letters) that asks, “Am I the only Pitkin County taxpayer who sees this as another absurd move to strip property-ownership rights?” He suggests the landowner is overtaxed and overregulated and therefore willing to sell the property, which boasts about 50 acres of irrigated agricultural land and access to the Crown, a popular recreation area to the south and west that includes land in Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties.Two or three families will be forced from their homes if the deal goes through, said Brown, who also questioned the need for another portal to the Crown and blasted Pitkin County’s move into another county for an open space purchase.While a home on the property, occupied by a caretaker, is not part of the open space deal, two trailers that are rented out would be vacated, said Dale Will, Pitkin County open space and trails director.”Under the contract offered to the county, they will be vacant when we take possession,” Will said. That presumably would be the case if someone else bought the land, as well, he said. The property had been listed for sale for $6 million.Neighbor Brian Davies has raised questions about the county’s plans for the agricultural land and suggests the value of his property and that of the neighborhood will be negatively affected if the land is not properly managed. He also has voiced concern about increased traffic on Hooks Spur Road and about the impact on neighboring properties created by recreational uses of the Saltonstall property.”I think it irresponsible to buy the property for open space and then have a discussion on what to do with it and how to manage it,” Davies wrote to the open space directors in Pitkin and Eagle counties.A number of entities and property owners have, however, expressed support for the purchase. Many have written letters to the board that oversees the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund in support of an application for funding to help with the purchase.The Midvalley Trails Committee has offered $50,000 toward the purchase, reflecting its support for access to the Bureau of Land Management lands on the Crown. The BLM, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (which owns nearby Rock Bottom Ranch), the Emma Caucus, the Roaring Fork Conservancy and the Roaring Fork Food Policy Council also have written letters of support. J. Thomas Clark, whose family owns Crown Mountain Ranch, and the Parker family, which owns Happy Day Ranch, also are backing the acquisition. Conservation easements exist to protect land on both ranches, located in the Emma area, and hiker and equestrian access to the Crown is available through Happy Day Ranch.The Saltonstall purchase would close in the fall if it goes through, according to Will. With $2 million from Pitkin County, the remainder of the $5 million price must be assembled by July 2, including funds from Basalt and Eagle County, where elected officials also must approve the purchase. Pitkin County commissioners will take up the acquisition at a March 28 public hearing.Existing agricultural uses on the property would continue two years after the purchase, Will said. During that time, a master plan for the property would be developed that outlines recreational and agricultural uses.In unveiling the purchase contract, Pitkin County noted the acquisition would secure a trail connection from the Rio Grande Trail, which runs adjacent to Hooks Spur Road in the area, up onto the Crown. An existing trail connection from the Rio Grande to the Crown adjacent to Rock Bottom Ranch crosses private property and could be closed off, according to Will.Trail uses on the Saltonstall property would honor whatever the BLM decides regarding wintertime closures on the Crown, he said. Motorized uses aren’t permitted on county open space holdings.”Rather than trying to regulate access by not having access, I would rather approach access in a more scientific way,” Will said.The land would provide another portal to the Crown. Currently most users access the area from Prince Creek Road outside Carbondale.Though the Saltonstall property is in Eagle County, it is close to the Pitkin County border and would provide access to public land within Pitkin County.Allocating open space dollars outside Pitkin County boundaries is not new, Will said. The county holds conservation easements on other lands within Eagle, Garfield and Gunnison counties, all with connections to the Roaring Fork Valley, and owns 2 acres outright along the Crystal River in Garfield County. It also is working with Eagle County on an open space purchase at a former tree farm bordering Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel, located in Eagle County.Part of the Saltonstall deal is a conservation easement on riparian acreage along the Roaring Fork River on the opposite side of Hooks Spur Road from the rest of the property and across the river from the tree farm firstname.lastname@example.org
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