Pitkin County mulls artifact preservation
July 13, 2012
ASPEN – Experts both within and outside Pitkin County might put their heads together to come up with a plan to preserve a rural midvalley site littered with archaeological artifacts.
Though the property isn’t one the county’s Open Space and Trails program would typically look at, program director Dale Will has taken the lead in determining what options are available to protect the site and help its owners recoup their investment in it.
“Personally, I’d like to see a solution that would protect it from development and benefit all of us by allowing us to understand what went on there,” said Will, who has joined the chorus of those who have been escorted to the property and been amazed by the artifacts scattered there, including pieces of stone tools and spear points.
A consultant has estimated their age at 1,000 to 2,000 years old.
“This site, from the people I’ve been talking to, could be quite significant,” Will said.
The parcel’s owners, David Brown and Jody Anthes, purchased it in order to protect it but have said a short-term loan needs to be repaid. They’ve asked county commissioners to declare the site constrained – undevelopable or severely restricted under the county’s land-use code – and to issue two transferable development rights that they could sell to offset the money they sank into the lot. Development rights on the archaeological site would be sterilized as part of the arrangement.
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Commissioners have been reluctant to grant their request and last month called for a plan to protect the artifacts as part of the deal. Now, Will is trying to determine how best to address everyone’s desires.
While it would be “a little off-mission” for the county open space program to purchase a conservation easement on the parcel, state and federal tax credits are available for a landowner who grants a conservation easement on such a parcel, Will said. That step might, however, require listing the site on the National Register of Historic Places.
In addition, Will has been in contact with the Archeological Conservancy, based in Albuquerque, N.M., which is willing to help write a management plan for the parcel at no cost to its owners, he said.
“There is this whole network of people who work on this stuff who we’ve never had occasion to work with before,” he said. “We are making some headway.”
Brown said this week that he’d like to see the site simply left alone, the way it has been. It is off a private, gated road, Will noted, but protecting it is a matter of concern.
A strategy of not drawing attention to such sites is a good one, according to Andrea Brogan, historic program manager for the White River National Forest.
The forest doesn’t contain a lot of archaeological sites, she said, but there is one on the National Register, and there are others that are quietly managed to keep people and livestock away, she said.
“The best thing to do is just keep them off the radar,” Brogan said.
Brogan has not visited the Pitkin County site but has read the consultant’s report on its significance. She, too, advocates its protection.
“Those kinds of historic sites are not particularly common in that condition,” Brogan said.
Lisa Hancock, vice president and curator of collections at the Aspen Historical Society, also is eager to see the site left undeveloped whether it becomes a study site or not.
The site might have been used for a long time, given the tools and evidence of tool manufacturing there, according to the archaeological consultant who studied the property. Its high-elevation setting also makes it unique, the consultant concluded.
The flakes and pieces of artifacts that are visible appear to have been dislodged naturally and washed down the slope, Hancock noted. The society happily would become the repository for anything that is removed from the site, she added.
“For us to find hard evidence that humans were residing in the valley 1,000 years ago – it’s quite extraordinary,” Will said. “Because it’s relatively intact, it may yield a lot of new insight into who was here.”
County commissioners had been scheduled to take up the transferable-development-rights request for the site again this week, but the matter was put off until July 25 while discussion continues on how best to deal with the property.