Midvalley open space plan advances | AspenTimes.com

Midvalley open space plan advances

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Courtesy Pitkin County Open Space and TrailsThe land shaded in yellow is the focus of an open space acquisition near Basalt.

BASALT – Pitkin and Eagle counties and the town of Basalt have secured a $5 million contract to purchase about 145 acres of open space in the midvalley that preserves agricultural land and access to the Crown.

The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board of Trustees voted Thursday to recommend spending $2 million in county open space funds on the purchase. County commissioners will take up the expenditure on March 14, with potential final approval on March 28. Action by elected officials in Basalt and Eagle County will be required, as well.

The Saltonstall property is in Eagle County, upvalley from Rock Bottom Ranch, extending from Hooks Spur Road to the Crown. However, much of the public land accessible through it is within Pitkin County.

Also part of the deal is a conservation easement on riparian acreage along the Roaring Fork River on the opposite side of Hooks Spur Road and across the river from Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel.

The purchase will add to the county’s portfolio of irrigated agricultural holdings with about 50 acres of farmland. The open space board has considered incorporating food production into its mission, and the property yielded as much as 50,000 pounds per acre of potatoes in the 1950s, according to Pitkin County. More recently, it has been used for hay production.

“This lower irrigated piece is among the most fertile farmland in our valley,” said Dale Will, open space director for Pitkin County.

Climbing up from the valley floor, the parcel also takes in a piece of the lower flanks of the Crown, a popular recreation area at the base of Mount Sopris. A ranch road provides access to the Crown, but there is the potential to construct a hiking and biking trail on the property’s upper reaches, as well, Will said.

The open space will 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 actually crosses private property, though it is used by the public, according to Will.

“It’s a trespass that the landowner isn’t crazy about and could cut off,” he said.

The Saltonstall purchase would secure a portal to the Crown for the Basalt area equal to the one off Prince Creek Road outside of Carbondale, Will said.

The land on the Crown includes about 90 acres of critical winter range that could be developed with large homes, according to the county. A wintertime closure of the land is contemplated with its preservation as open space, Will said.

The purchase will add to a number of already conserved properties in the midvalley, the county noted in a press release, and protect land visible from many areas of the midvalley, including from the Rio Grande Trail.

With $2 million from Pitkin County, the remainder of the $5 million purchase price must be assembled by July 2, according to the contract. In addition to funds from Basalt and Eagle County, a grant request to Great Outdoors Colorado is being prepared.

The three government entities also participated jointly in the purchase of a conservation easement to protect the Grange Ranch in Basalt, and Pitkin County and Basalt have partnered on a couple of other past deals.

The proposed Saltonstall acquisition ends a year-long suspension of activity for Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, which spent more than $11 million on the 841-acre Droste property at the close of 2010. That land is now part of what’s known as Sky Mountain Park, outside of Snowmass Village. The Droste purchase required about two years’ worth of property tax revenues that support the program; Open Space and Trails borrowed money from the county’s general fund and repaid it by mid-year 2011.

Tax revenues this year will give the program about $6 million with which to work.

“This year, we’re back in the black,” Will said. “This project has captivated us like nothing else we’ve got on our docket right now.”

The property had been listed for sale for $6 million, but was on the county’s radar even before it went on the market, according to Will.

Its purchase meets all four of the Open Space and Trails program’s goals for land preservation as it boasts agricultural, wildlife, scenic and recreational attributes, he noted.

“This project does all those things extremely well,” Will said.


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