Pitco is set to acquire Wheatley Open Space | AspenTimes.com
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Pitco is set to acquire Wheatley Open Space

Staff report

Pitkin County Open Space and Trails has placed 105 acres along the Roaring Fork River at the lower end of Snowmass Canyon under contract for $1.95 million.

The purchase of Wheatley Open Space will go to the Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday for the first of two required approvals; a public hearing is scheduled July 9.

The acquisition will protect part of the historic Wheatley Ranch — a property that has seen little change since the 1880s, when Irishman John Edward Wheatley began ranching there. The Wheatley family sold the property to Laurent Arbaney Sr., who built the existing farmhouse at the site. The land remained in the Arbaney family until Peter and Janelli Dart acquired it in 1960. Under Dart ownership, the Arbaneys continued to ranch on the property into the 1970s.

“We’ve tried to be good stewards,” J. Dart said. “From the family’s perspective, we are thrilled with the opportunity to have a portion of the property become public land.”

“This property is familiar to anyone who travels through Snowmass Canyon,” said Dale Will, Open Space and Trails director. “Thanks to a series of longtime owners, most recently the Darts, it remains an undeveloped gem right next to the Roaring Fork River.”

The Rio Grande Trail, Lower River Road and the Roaring Fork River all cut through the property; Highway 82 follows the river on its south bank.

Pitkin County and the Darts recently forged a deal to split the ranch, allowing the county to purchase the lower end of the property, east of the Lower River Road bridge over the Roaring Fork at Old Snowmass. The open space encompasses land on both sides of the river, including an irrigated meadow and Wheatley Gulch, where the old Wheatley family cemetery is tucked into the trees. Water rights are also part of the deal. The purchase eliminates the potential for a home of up to 8,250 square feet in a scenic meadow at the bottom of Snowmass Canyon.

The Dart family will retain the upper piece of the ranch, a property that contains the old Wheatley schoolhouse, built in 1911, log buildings that date back to the Wheatley homestead days and the Arbaney farmhouse, apparently constructed in the late 1930s. All of the structures have been designated as historic by Pitkin County. In addition, a building site for an 8,250-square-foot home exists on 161 acres retained by the Darts.

Open Space and Trails acknowledged the importance of the Dart property early on in the open space program’s history, Will said. In 1997, the county and Aspen Valley Land Trust acquired a conservation easement on 292 acres for $1.4 million to protect the natural, ecological, wildlife habitat, scenic, historic, agricultural and aesthetic features of the property. The appraised value of the easement at that time was $2.2 million. This easement had left two developable homesites, one of which will be retired under the county’s ownership.

The 1997 conservation easement allowed fishing for up to six individuals at a time, but anglers were required to first sign in and pick up a card from Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt, and access to the river was limited to the Highway 82 side. The conservation easement also established a pullout and rest area for noncommercial boaters along the river. River access will be revisited under a management plan following the purchase.


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