Open space purchase ties Crystal River properties

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

It appears that the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Department will add another feather to its cap.

On Wednesday, the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the purchase of two Redstone River parcels that comprise approximately 21.3 acres and are contiguous to Elk Park and Redstone Park on the south as well as the Redstone Boulders Open Space on the northeast.

The two parcels up for purchase would tie all of these properties together into a seamless river corridor containing more than a mile of riverfront between Coal Creek and a well-used beach area upstream from the north Redstone Bridge.

The costs for the two parcels will be $140,000 and as much as $15,000 to cover transaction costs.

“I’m real excited about acquisition,” said Dale Will, the executive director for Open Space and Trails. “So often the projects we work on are very expensive. We’re getting these parcels at a fair price, and we’re getting lands that add value to properties we already own. It’s great when we get parcels that connect two other properties. Adjoining properties means larger open spaces. That allows us more flexibility on the ecosystem-restoration side and the overall recreation side.”

One of the properties includes the confluence of Coal Creek with the Crystal River. The current confluence isn’t the natural area where the two waters meet but one that was put in when the state was working on Highway 133 in that area.

In its natural state, Coal Creek used to run through wetlands before it met with the Crystal River downstream from the present confluence area.

Coal Creek experiences frequent debris flows that feed coarse rock and wood into the creek, which in turn collect at the confluence of Coal Creek and the Crystal River. This causes pooling of water and erosion by both streams.

It also causes a sediment buildup that raises the riverbed of the Crystal near Redstone, elevating flood danger.

“The river isn’t all that happy in its current state,” Will said. “This gives us an opportunity to fix the riverbanks. We also want to maintain the natural floodplain.”

The seller of the two properties is listed as Diane Delaney and partners, who are the residual partners from the Mid-Continent Resources coal-mining group that ran the Coal Basin mining area until it closed in 1991. Jeff Beard was at the meeting to represent Delaney and her group.

“That mine has a controversial past,” Beard said. “The owners can see a good marriage with the Open Space people to keep this land from going to a private owner. That’s not what they wanted to see.”

The properties match well with the type of land the Open Space and Trails Department typically seeks. It contains aquatic and riparian habitat, scenic riverfront along the West Elk Scenic Area and Historic Byway, and a popular public river access near the Redstone campground.

Chuck Downey is a Redstone resident and was delighted with the purchase.

“It’s great to see our county take advantage of a land-use tool like the Open Space and Trails Department to shape our future as opposed to zoning,” Downey said. “Zoning can be changed by the next board of commissioners. This purchase will keep that land in perpetuity.”

A public hearing concerning the purchase will be held at the commissioners meeting on Nov. 20. Will said the public can rest assured that questions of access will be driven by habitat management.

“A private owner could have restricted public access,” he said. “We’re keeping public use open. That area will be managed in the public’s interest.”