Pitkin County contributes $150k to Red Hill land purchase

The Red Hill Recreation Area is located off Colorado Highway 82 just south of Carbondale.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

In a somewhat unusual though not unheard of move, Pitkin County’s open space program will make a $150,000 contribution toward buying and managing a parcel of land in Garfield County.

The 25-acre parcel at the base of Red Hill north of Carbondale leads to an extensive trail system that accesses Mushroom Rock near the confluence of the Crystal and Roaring Fork rivers.

Open Space and Trails Board members unanimously recommended the purchase because many Pitkin County residents use the trails, especially in the shoulder seasons when snow, mud or seasonal trail closures cut trail access in the Upper Roaring Fork Valley, said Dale Will, director of acquisitions for the open space program.

“It’s kind of like the Smuggler Mountain of Carbondale,” Will said.

Pitkin County commissioners gave final approval to the expenditure Wednesday.

The commercially zoned property had been slated for a mini-storage facility, which would have been a “visual blight” had it been built, Will said.

The Aspen Valley Land Trust had its eye on the property for some time before last fall, when the landowner reduced the price to $825,000, according to a memo written by Will to commissioners. AVLT then moved quickly to buy the property, securing a loan, and then undertaking a fundraising campaign, the memo states.

AVLT needed to raise a total of $1.35 million for the project, which includes an extra $510,000 to design and build a trail connection from the bottom of Red Hill to the existing trail network, creating a long-term management plan and other costs, the memo states.

Other funding sources include $300,000 from the Brown Family Foundation, $300,000 from a River Valley Ranch-connected open space fund, $300,000 from 260 private donors, $200,000 from Garfield County, $100,000 from another family foundation and $50,000 from the town of Carbondale, according to Will’s memo and Suzanne Stephens of AVLT.

The open space easement on the property will be jointly held by AVLT and the Pitkin County open space program, while the land will be transferred next month to the town of Carbondale, according to Will and Stephens.

The trails to separate recreation users from car traffic will likely be built this summer and fall, while Garfield County Road 107 will be realigned within a year or so to improve access to Highway 82, Stephens said. The changes will alleviate pedestrian and traffic safety concerns, according to Will’s memo.

“We’re so psyched,” Stephens said Wednesday, noting that the fundraising campaign is now over with the Pitkin County contribution. “It’s been very rewarding to see this be such a broadly supported project.”

Will said Pitkin County doesn’t make a habit of contributing to open space outside the county. However, the president of the Red Hill Council and the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association estimated that Pitkin County residents may represent about 5 percent of total annual users of the trail system, a number that may balloon to 20 percent to 25 percent in the spring and fall, Will wrote in his memo.

“We do this occasionally,” Will said.

Another example of a similar situation is the Glassier property in Eagle County, he said.

“We believe this is an appropriate response given the somewhat arbitrary fragmentation of our valley watershed into multiple counties,” Will wrote.