Pitkin County votes to pursue open space purchase despite neighbors’ objections | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County votes to pursue open space purchase despite neighbors’ objections

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Deer Creek Ranch includes access into Arbaney Gulch, in the background. Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Executive Director Dale Will said the gulch provides access to the national forest beyond. A neighbor claims it is a box canyon.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times |

The Pitkin County commissioners granted the first of two approvals Wednesday to purchase property in Snowmass Canyon that connects public lands on both sides of the Roaring Fork Valley.

The approval came despite objections from a handful of neighbors from the neighborhood in Snowmass Canyon.

The commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the purchase of 38 acres at Deer Creek Ranch for $2.5 million. The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program has an agreement to buy the property at 2553 Lower River Road from a lender that foreclosed on the prior owner. The property has agricultural uses, provides excellent wildlife habitat and has the potential for recreational uses, said Dale Will, executive director of the open space program.

“We think that it can be managed effectively by Pitkin County to protect all those resources,” Will told the commissioners.

The property is divided into three pieces: One extends up the hillside to Williams Hill on the south side of Highway 82; another is a small patch that could provide access from the Rio Grande Trail to the Roaring Fork River; and the largest piece of the long, narrow property is north of the river and trail and extends into Arbaney Gulch, an isolated tributary of Snowmass Canyon. The property provides access to thousands of acres in the White River National Forest, according to Will.

He said the open space department has received significantly more letters from residents about this purchase than it usually does about prospective deals. There are letters of support but also plenty of people questioning the purchase, he said.

Some of the people with concerns showed up at the meeting. Marty Schlumberger, who lives adjacent to Deer Creek Ranch, said Arbaney Gulch doesn’t provide access to the surrounding national forest. It’s a box canyon with no connecting trails, he said.

Schlumberger labeled the canyon “very fragile” because of its value to wildlife and wildflowers.

His partner, Linda Waag, said there are times when private ownership with limited development can be more beneficial than public ownership with extensive use. She said the canyon has seen few visitors over the years, as demonstrated by the route into it.

“It’s a small, tiny, cattle trail. It’s not a road into it,” she said.

Both Schlumberger and Waag also objected to the disruption that could result from public ownership of the property. They said river access for anglers and paddlers would infringe on their privacy. They also are concerned about traffic and parking.

“To open it to the public would be a disaster to us,” Schlumberger said. He asked the commissioners to deny funding for the proposed purchase.

Dan Soderberg, another neighboring property owner, voiced similar concerns.

An attorney hired by Schlumberger, Luke Van Arsdale, asked the county to consider exploring a purchase of the property with private landowners in the neighborhood. In return for chipping in, the landowners would want a pledge that no boat ramp would be established on the property and there wouldn’t be access into the narrow canyon.

“We love our wilderness in Pitkin County,” Van Arsdale said. But problems arise “when we love it to death,” he said.

Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman said the neighbors are concerned about uses that haven’t been discussed.

“What I’ve heard is a lot of assumptions,” he said.

Pitkin County Open Space and Trails has a reputation for taking its time to work on detailed management plans for the properties it purchases. The staff actively engages interested stakeholders rather than simply holding meetings and inviting the public.

Commissioner Patti Clapper urged the neighbors to get involved in that management planning.

The board voted 4-0 to approve the purchase. It will require a second round of approval and a formal public hearing June 10.

Newman said he believes the county has a responsibility to look ahead with its open space purchases.

“It’s for future generations to enjoy,” he said.