Setting the record straight on Open Space
The Sept. 4-5 edition of the Aspen Times Weekly contained an opinion piece by Gary Hubbell that leveled several accusations at the Pitkin County Open Space Program. Bits of his misinformation were repeated last week in a hoax letter to the Aspen Daily News. On Friday the Daily News retracted the letter, acknowledging that someone had forged another’s name on it. Curiously, as far as I know, Mr. Hubbell has never spoken with anyone associated with the program, and apparently obtained all his information secondhand. Lest any others be misled, I wish to respond.1. Hubbell claims that Commissioner Dorothea Farris is “bulling ahead to build a bike trail through critical winter wildlife habitat while disregarding the professional opinions of the DOW.”Reality: The Crystal River Master Plan, adopted in 2003 after some 76 public meetings, calls for a bicycle trail from Carbondale to Redstone. The vast majority of Crystal Valley residents have stated in opinion surveys that they want such a trail. This April, the Highway 133 Scenic and Historic Byway Committee concluded a Crested Butte-to-Carbondale Trail Feasibility Study that looks at potential alternatives to achieve the Master Plan goal. This exciting document maps a 74-mile route to connect Bonedale to the Butte through some of the most beautiful land in the world. Furthermore, the report documents the habitat issues of each alignment, including the need for winter closures on some alternatives, and notes all DOW comments.The Byway report identifies potential trail routes on public lands and rights of way. Actual construction is outside the Byway Committee’s purview, and is left to the individual entities that participated in the study, mainly Gunnison County, Pitkin County, Carbondale and the United States Forest Service. Gunnison is already at work on a trail from Crested Butte to the Kebler summit. On our side of the hill, the first and only section of a bicycle trail recommended by Pitkin County is within the Highway 133 Right of Way from Carbondale to Thompson Creek. This July, the Crystal River Caucus reaffirmed its support of a trail by specifically endorsing this proposed first step from Carbondale to Thompson Creek.2. Hubbell claims the County “is suing Redstone residents for trail access through a long-abandoned railroad grade that is now their private driveways.”Reality: The “long-abandoned railroad grade” is in fact a public road that was deeded to Pitkin County in 1982 on the Wild Rose Subdivision Plat. Gary, please see The Wild Rose Plat, Book 14, page 33 of the Official Records of Pitkin County (stating that landowners Edwards and Fulker “do hereby dedicate to the public all rights of way and easements shown hereon for public uses.”) Janet Edwards wrote last year urging Pitkin County to defend this public right of way: “The County clearly intended to create a way for citizens to hike and cross-country ski through this very scenic place. We were in full agreement with this intention. I had walked and skied every inch of it that was available to me many times. In those days, it was kind of lonely, but I always felt that this kind of beauty should be shared. Though I no longer live in the Crystal Valley, I still feel strongly that public access to areas like this is an important thing to maintain. A long greenbelt along the Crystal River is a great way to ensure quality of life here as the valley fills up.”In short, Pitkin County is defending a public right of way that was granted by the prior owners of the Fulker ranch, so that all might enjoy the beauty of the Penny Hot Springs area in an appropriate manner.I might note that, as an outfitter, Mr. Hubbell’s livelihood depends on access to public lands. Pitkin County has taken his needs, and those of us all, very seriously by defending access not only here, but also at Smuggler Mountain and Hunter Creek.The “Redstone residents” the county has challenged are two individuals who have sought to overturn the deeded right of way. One of those individuals, a Texas oil man named Ken Good, boasted to me at the Redstone Inn this July that he greatly enjoys walking down Dorais Way and across Filoha Meadows. He simply sees no reason why the general public might ever be allowed to do the same. I applaud Mr. Hubbell’s concern for the bighorn sheep that are present on this land from November through June. It is curious that an outfitter would conclude that this public land should be locked up tight, year-round.3. Finally, Hubbell asserts that the county sold the old Mautz Ranch to Sustainable Settings at a loss, in violation of the “original open space resolution.”The facts: The old 440-acre Mautz Ranch was acquired by the Conservation Fund in 2000 with a loan from the Open Space program. The terms of our loan to the Conservation Fund were fully vetted in a public hearing four years ago. At the time of the purchase, the ranch was slated for the development of six 15,000-square-foot houses. Four of these monster homes were to be lined up on the west side of Highway 133. In contrast to Hubbell’s assertion, this westerly 250 acres was appraised by the Conservation Fund at much less than the riverfront property east of 133.Given this background, what the Conservation Fund was able to accomplish was remarkable. Under the terms of the Fund’s sale to Sustainable Settings, three of four development envelopes were eliminated from pastures that are both scenic and important mule deer habitat. In other words, development was decreased by 75 percent. Further, despite this dramatic reduction in development, the Fund was able to resell it to Sustainable Settings at approximately the same price that had been paid for it with all four development rights. The proceeds from the sale were used by the Conservation Fund to repay the loan on this land to the county, which also acquired a permanent conservation easement prohibiting further approvals on Sustainable Settings’ property.As a legal matter, nothing in this transaction violated the “open space resolution.” Further, at negligible cost to the taxpayers, three major development envelopes were eliminated on a scenic meadow, while the land remains in private ownership. Both conservationists and fiscal conservatives should applaud such a cost-effective approach to conservation of habitat and scenic lands.Dale L. Will is the director of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails.