Pitkin County explores what’s next with key midvalley open space
Many people regard the Glassier Open Space as the crown jewel in a string of ranches that have been preserved in the midvalley.
Glassier has it all — a popular hiking and mountain biking trail, wildlife habitat, agricultural lands and a picture-perfect old farmstead.
Pitkin County Open Space and Trails is updating the master plan that dictates use of the 282-acre property in the Emma area and it’s giving the public a chance to help.
The Glassier Ranch and adjacent Red Ridge Ranch were purchased in 2014 and 2013, respectively, and combined into one open space. Pitkin County worked with Eagle County, Basalt and Great Outdoors Colorado to achieve the purchase. The combined cost was steep at $10.9 million but there’s been substantial payback. The Glassier Trail was developed and provided access to federal lands on the vast swath of ground known as the Crown. Mountain bike riders can connect to the popular Prince Creek Trail network from Glassier.
Six subsections of land were made available for agricultural uses, but only three have active uses, according to Paul Holsinger, agriculture and conservation easement administrator for the open space program.
Glassier was the first property where open space leased historic ranchland and farmland in its expanding effort to rejuvenate agriculture in the valley.
“When it’s the first, it always comes with growing pains,” Holsinger said. “We’re in a really good place now.”
Open space officials know the land better than five years ago when the first master plan was produced, and they also are more aware of what farmers and ranchers need to maintain a viable operation. Open space officials initially figured providing lengthy leases at a fair price was enough to encourage farmers and ranchers to invest time and effort into a property. But they have learned, by other agriculture-oriented properties acquired more recently, that it has to help with infrastructure improvements, Holsinger said.
The profit margins for farmers are so small that they are unwilling to sink money into barns and irrigation systems even if they do have long leases. Some of the existing leases will continue to be held by current holders; others will be offered after the master plan process helps chart direction for the property.
“There’s a lot of potential here,” Holsinger said. “It depends on a lot of factors.”
One of those factors is making housing available on the site. A quaint brick house — last inhabited by Freda Glassier, who lived there from 1948 until her death in 2009 — sits empty after the open space program shored up the roof to prevent leaks. It needs more work to be habitable. Public input during the master plan update will help determine if money should be invested in improving the house and surrounding buildings.
Holsinger noted that making on-site housing available opens up a world of uses to people who lease the agricultural lands. It allows them to raise small animals because they are present to fend off predators and be available at moment’s notice. One of the questions in the online survey asks people if the house should be fixed up and rented out.
The house is surrounded by a variety of old farm buildings, some of which date to the 1920s. There is a pig shed turned woodshed, a crumbling brick chicken coop, a newer metal storage building and a teetering outhouse.
Pitkin County completed the first master plan in 2015. Since then, the trail was built, irrigation was updated on part of the property, the house was stabilized and the river access was established.
“It was cool when we first bought it and it keeps getting cooler,” Holsinger said.
The public can help increase the cool factor by participating through Aug. 31 in the online survey to help determine priorities. It’s available at http://www.pitkinostprojects.com/glassier-open-space-management-plan.html.
A draft plan will be reviewed by the open space program’s board of directors Oct. 1 and put out for public comment. A final review and adoption is targeted in November.
Whatever happens with the master plan, one factor is guaranteed: Glassier Open Space will continue to be a critical part of a string of pearls that reduced development in the midvalley and maintained stunning vistas. Pitkin County Open Space and its partners have preserved thousands of interconnected acres from development through conservation easements and outright purchases. The open lands extend roughly 2 miles east and 2 miles west of the old Emma schoolhouse. Much of the preserved land remains in agricultural production. The old Glassier ranch will likely be hitting its stride better once the master plan is updated.
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