Sutey swap would likely come with access restrictions
CARBONDALE – Putting the Sutey Ranch in the public trust through a proposed land swap would not necessarily guarantee it will be an extension of the adjacent Red Hill Recreation Area, a popular attraction for mountain biking and hiking enthusiasts north of Carbondale.
“The Sutey parcel is extremely valuable wildlife habitat,” Colorado Division of Wildlife officer Kevin Wright said Tuesday night during a presentation of the proposed Sutey and Two Shoes Ranch land exchange before the Carbondale Board of Trustees.
“We can’t have it become another Red Hill, plain and simple,” he said, referring to the amount of recreational use it gets and problems with dogs running off leash. “If the same values are placed on Sutey that we have on Red Hill, we would lose the wildlife value we have there now.”
After hearing from representatives of landowner Leslie Wexner for a proposed compromise land exchange deal, as well as an alternative proposal offered by Pitkin County, Carbondale trustees voted 6-1 to uphold their support of the Wexner plan.
Included would be several new provisions offered by Wexner in an effort to win Pitkin County and other local government support. Among those provisions would be measures to further limit development rights on Wexner’s Two Shoes Ranch up Prince Creek south of Carbondale, and providing a $1 million endowment to ensure long-term management of the Sutey Ranch.
Wexner has also agreed to donate $100,000 for preparation of a management plan for the Sutey property, which would be a key first step if the exchange is approved.
Although local governments are being asked to endorse the proposal, it would take an act of Congress to approve the land swap.
Wexner, the billionaire CEO and chairman of the Limited Brands apparel corporation, proposes to trade the 520-acre Sutey Ranch, located in Garfield County, to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. In exchange, he would receive 1,268 acres of rugged BLM land, located in Pitkin County, that splits the existing 4,400-acre Two Shoes property, which he has acquired in recent years.
Pitkin County has refused to endorse Wexner’s proposal on the grounds that more public land would be lost than gained, along with access to U.S. Forest Service land on the north flank of Mt. Sopris.
The deal has been touted by proponents for the potential recreational benefits that could be extended onto the Sutey property, which sits directly north of the Red Hill area along Garfield County Road 112.
Left unpreserved in private hands, the Sutey parcel could also have development potential for 80 houses or more under Garfield County zoning.
Jonathan Lowsky, a wildlife consultant working for Wexner, said the ranch land now supports large densities of deer and elk during the winter months. For that reason he and Wright both propose a complete seasonal closure to public access between Dec. 1 and April 30.
“We would also recommend a dog prohibition, except for working ranch dogs, and a limitation of recreation trails to the existing ranch roads that are on the property,” Lowsky said.
Davis Farrar, a founding member of the Red Hill Council, which helped develop the BLM management plan for the Red Hill Area, said the council will work with the DOW and BLM to protect wildlife values on the Sutey parcel.
A portion of the Red Hill area, known as the Elk Traverse, is now closed during the winter and early spring to help protect wintering elk herds through calving season. However, wildlife officials contend the closures are only as good as the enforcement.
The endowment offered by Wexner would go a long way to overseeing the management plan, according to BLM field manager Steve Bennett, who also spoke at the meeting.
“That’s more money per acre than we deal with now for the entire resource area,” he said.
Although the BLM can’t take a position on the land exchange proposal until it’s formally before Congress, if the agency does end up with the Sutey property, there would be an extensive environmental impact review and public process to develop a management plan, Bennett said.
Carbondale Trustee John Foulkrod said he would like to see the Sutey property preserved for agriculture in some way.
“I’d hate to see that lost … that could be the heart and soul of this proposal,” he said. “I don’t think we need bicycles on every square acre of this county, or the next county.”
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