Pitkin County eyes preserving more ranchland in heart of Emma
Another chunk of ground in the Roaring Fork Valley’s agricultural heart will be preserved from housing development if a proposed deal is completed.
Pitkin County Open Space and Trails has a contract to purchase a conservation easement on about 50 acres of land owned by Emma Farms at an elbow where Hooks Lane and Emma Road come together. The conservation easement would sterilize three home sites in Eagle County and one in Pitkin County, according to Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Director Dale Will.
“By acquiring those, we’re going to preserve the heart of Emma,” Will said.
The contract is for $2 million. The property is worth significantly more as home sites. The three Eagle County sites are approved for houses of as much as 8,250 square feet, Will said. The site in Pitkin County is approved for a house up to 5,750 square feet.
The land is currently used for cattle grazing and growing hay. It will continue to be used for the cattle operations of Rory and Lucy Cerise and Emma Farms Cattle Co., according to Tom Waldeck, the owner of the property and an adviser to the cattle company. The conservation easement will be held jointly by Pitkin County and Aspen Valley Land Trust, according to Will.
The county Open Space and Trails board of trustees will review the proposal Thursday and make a recommendation to the county commissioners. The commissioners will review the project next week and vote on the funding.
Will said Pitkin County will ask Eagle County to cover 75 percent of the cost since three of the four home sites are in Eagle County. Pitkin County also is applying for a Great Outdoors Colorado grant of $700,000. Basalt also will be asked to chip in.
Based on a past deal, this acquisition appears to be right up the governments’ alley. They teamed to acquire the adjacent Glassier and Saltonstall ranches, which will be managed as one open space parcel. The properties are located on Hook Spur Road, west of Emma Farms.
“This really completes our quest to protect the ‘fertile crescent’ along the red cliffs in Emma,” Will wrote in an email. He referred to the red cliffs at the base of a land mass known as the Crown. The cliffs and agricultural lands leading to them are visible throughout the midvalley.
Waldeck acquired the approvals for the homes in 2006, but he has been a proponent of keeping the area undeveloped. He said most people would look at pastureland and hay fields and “shutter” at the possibility of them getting developed.
“The thought of that violated my good senses and good values,” Waldeck said. “Once you build a house up there it never comes back.”
Waldeck had already placed a conservation easement on about 70 acres of the property during the review process. The latest move by Pitkin County would put 120 of the 137-acre ranch in a conservation easement.
“It’s just gorgeous at the base of the Crown,” he said. “I love it and I love it without houses on it.”
Waldeck retains approvals for two homes along Hooks Lane. He said he doesn’t anticipate them being developed during his lifetime. They will be reserved for family members. Waldeck also restored a stately Victorian house on the property.
Waldeck credited Pitkin County Open Space and Trails for taking action to keep so much of the agricultural land in Emma undeveloped. He said he was talking to Will some time ago about placing a conservation easement on more of his land.
“It’s been in the works for quite a while,” Will said.
The land covered by the conservation easement won’t be accessible by the public, but it will preserve views and maintain agricultural uses, Will said. That will enhance the program’s holdings at Glassier Open Space, he said.
The acquisition would allow Pitkin County to make a trail connection from an existing route into the Crown, to the Glassier property, Will said. The existing route into the Crown is known as Nancy’s Path. It is for hikers and equestrians only. The new trail connection to the Glassier property also would be reserved for hikers and equestrians. A separate route is being planned from Glassier into the Crown that would be open to all non-motorized users. Hikers and horse riders would have an option of looping back to Glassier on a route closed to mountain bikes via Nancy’s Path and the new connection.
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