Open space board gives nod of approval to Glassier ranch leases
HORSE RIDERS SPEAK UP
Members of the Roaring Fork Valley Horse Council are saddled up for a lobbying effort to make sure an open space property in the midvalley includes amenities for them.
About 12 members of the organization attended the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board of trustees meeting Thursday to urge the board to make sure adequate parking for horse trailers is provided at Glassier Open Space.
The program is in the process of implementing a management plan for the 156-acre property. Much of it will be leased to ranchers and farmers, and off limits to the general public. However, there will be a route for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians across the property into The Crown, high ground managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
At least eight speakers told the open space board Thursday that it is essential that land be provided on the Glassier Open Space to park and turn around at least two horse trailers. The open space staff is just starting to study a proposal to include parking at the old Glassier homestead.
Additional parking will likely be provided at property the open space program is negotiating to buy near the intersection of Hooks Lane and Hook Spur Road. However, some equestrians said that is too far away from the Glassier trailhead to be useful.
No issues were resolved Thursday but open space board members urged the equestrians to be patient and keep working with them to find solutions to the parking issue. Another big issue will be creating a trail or trails that can reduce conflicts between bikes and horses. Holly McLain, head of the horse council’s communication committee, said the council is working with the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association on proposals.
The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board of Trustees on Thursday recovered from a case of cold feet over granting long-term leases for ranchers and farmers on a midvalley property.
The board voted 4-0 to recommend that the Pitkin County commissioners approve leases for six parcels on 156 acres of the Glassier Open Space, which was created when the open space program acquired two ranches along Hooks Lane.
Board members put the proposed leases on hold two weeks ago because of concerns about proposed leases of five to 10 years at rates ranging from $10 to $25 per acre. The board members directed their staff to provide more information to justify the recommendations for long leases at cheap rates.
The open space staff returned Thursday with a report packed with details on why the various parties were selected for the leases.
Open Space and Trails Program Director Dale Will reminded the board that the program commissioned a study in 2011 that said the current amount of irrigated land in the Roaring Fork Valley could produce food for about 15,000 people a year, or about 37 percent of the population.
That convinced the open space program to enlist in an “all-out war” to prevent further conversion of agricultural lands to subdivisions, he said.
Paul Holsinger, the land officer for the open space program, said the guiding principles for leasing ranch lands was to preserve traditional ranching and assist start-up farmers. The idea wasn’t to rent the land out at the highest rate possible, he said. The program also established guidelines that awarded taking good care of the land.
Holsinger said two ranchers were selected to lease the larger parcels at Glassier because they had more than a decade of experience working the land and demonstrated an ability to improve the ground.
The open space staff recommended leasing the 44.5-acre Parcel A to Alec Parker for $10 per acre, or $450 annually, and leasing the 94.2-acre Parcel B to Rory and Lucy Cerise for $18.50 per acre, or $1,742.70 annually.
Parker has a 10-year record of stewardship and management on the property before it was sold to the open space program. He plans to graze cattle and sheep on the property and grow hay.
The Cerises leased the land for 15 years before it was sold to Pitkin County. They will graze cattle and grow hay.
Four smaller parcels, ranging from 0.6 to 10.3 acres, will be leased to consortiums of farmers experimenting with alternative agriculture. The Glassier Agricultural Co-Operative consists of people who will plant fruit trees, grow vegetables and flowers and raise small animals such as rabbits. Another lease recommended the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, which will raise veggies. Leases of 10 years were advised for as little as $75 annually.
At a meeting two weeks ago, open space board member Ty Jacober said the program was “not even in the ballpark” of getting enough money for the grazing lands proposed to be leased to Parker and the Cerises. He contended someone could gross $45,000 from growing hay on the 45 acres that Parker wanted to lease. Jacober didn’t attend Thursday’s meeting.
Parker responded Thursday by telling the board he felt it was inappropriate for Jacober to weigh in on the lease since Jacober is a competing beef producer.
He said Jacober vastly overestimated how much hay can be grown on the parcel. Jacober’s estimate would require four or five cuttings, but only two are typical in the high altitude of the Roaring Fork Valley.
Parker said the open space staff negotiated leases that were fair to Pitkin County as well as to the farmers and ranchers.
“They picked the guys who care about the land,” he said.
Parker scoffed at Jacober’s suggestion that he would be making good money by renting the open space at such a low rate. It takes a sizable investment in diesel fuel and supplies as well as time to “keep it green,” he said of the land.
“When’s the last time you saw a farmer driving a Lexus or BMW?” Parker asked.
Open space board member Tim McFlynn said the board had the responsibility to study the leases in greater detail because they were renting out public land. The program had never before put agriculture parcels out to competitive bid, he noted.
Board member Howie Mallory agreed that the program was exploring a new frontier.
“Clearly, we’re good at buying open space, we’re good at trails,” Mallory said. But the program is new at finding parties to lease land for agricultural uses, he said. Therefore, the board was justified in studying what it would get in return for the low-rate leases, he continued.
Both McFlynn and Mallory said they could support the proposed leases after the greater level of review.
Open space board chairman Graeme Means, who wasn’t able to attend the prior meeting, expressed support for the leases as proposed.
“Every property seems to have the right kind of people leasing it,” he said.
Means said he wasn’t concerned about the low rent rates on the two larger parcels. After five additional years of quality care by Parker and the Cerises, the property might attract more bidders, he said. The free market will sort out what the property is worth, he said.
Means also supported renting the smaller parcels to farmers at low rates in hopes that it will help get them established.
Open space board member Hawk Greenway said he was excited to move forward on the leases as proposed. He said he would be willing to consider a minimum rent rate in the future, particularly on the larger parcels.
The county commissioners will review the leases next week.
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