Pitkin County seeks restored access to river | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County seeks restored access to river

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

OLD SNOWMASS – Public access to a stretch of the Roaring Fork River near Old Snowmass will be restored as required by the terms of a conservation easement held by the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program.

The Dart family, owners of the property, has agreed to provide access on the north side of the river, as dictated in a 1997 conservation agreement with the county, according to Dale Will, open space program director. The north side of the river was fenced off and posted as off-limits, apparently last summer.

“We didn’t have any advance notice they were going to close it,” Will said.

“No parking” signs were posted along Lower River Road, just upstream of the bridge that crosses the river at Old Snowmass, and a two-strand wire fence blocks the spot where a gate once provided access. A sign explaining the family’s desire to close off the area for restoration purposes was also posted by the Dart family.

It reads, in part: “Since 1960 our family has allowed access to this pull off area. In recent years usage has increased exponentially, including escalating damage to the surrounding property. Trash, debris and general abuse have seriously damaged the conservation values of the land. As a result we decided to close this area to allow the flora and fauna to recover to its full and natural state as defined in our conservation easement with Pitkin County and the Aspen Valley Land Trust. Please know this is and has always been private property.”

Access to the river on the Dart property also exists on the south side of the river – there is a pull-off from Highway 82 and a place to park. That was not closed off.

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The county spent $1.38 million in open space funds for the Dart conservation easement in 1997. In addition, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation put up $20,000 for a total purchase price of $1.4 million.

The agreement preserved close to 300 acres of land in Snowmass Canyon and an historic schoolhouse. Public access to Wheatley Gulch on the north side and to Williams Hill, south of the highway, were also components of the deal.

The easement also formalized an existing lease between the Darts and Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt that spelled out fishing access on the property. Up to six anglers per day are able to fish roughly a one-mile stretch upriver from the Lower River Road bridge, but must first obtain a free permit from the fly shop.

The lease agreement calls for access from Lower River Road, near the bridge, at times of high water, as well as access from the Highway 82 side. Will said he recently unearthed a copy of the lease, which predates his tenure with the program, to confirm the terms. What constitutes high water is not clearly spelled out, he said.

“The spirit of it is anytime the river is running too high for people to wade safely across – that’s my interpretation of it,” he said. When flows are low, anglers may access the river from the highway side and wade across to fish the bank on the north side.

The property, Snowmass Canyon Ranch, is listed for sale for $12.5 million. It includes building rights for two homes, as allowed in the conservation easement. Already approved are two homes of up to 5,250 square feet; the dwellings can be increased to 8,250 square feet each with the purchase of transferable development rights, according to the online real estate listing. The property is listed with Live Water Properties, which specializes in fishing and hunting properties.

The terms of the conservation easement would continue to apply under new ownership.

janet@aspentimes.com

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