Tree farm buildings receiving new life |

Tree farm buildings receiving new life

EL JEBEL ” Two midvalley buildings that were the site of a tragic accident will be dismantled by Eagle County and recycled as picnic shelters.

The old pine-cone storage buildings at the former Mount Sopris Tree Farm, next to Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel, will be taken apart this year, county public works director Tom Johnson said.

Cathy Close welcomed the news. Her son, Jamie, died in a tragic accident in one of the buildings on June 23, 2001.

The abandoned building had been converted into a makeshift skateboard park. Jaime and some friends were playing in there, but not skateboarding, when he hit his head on a heavy metal bar that skaters used as a rail for tricks. The implement wasn’t properly anchored. As Jamie fell back he pulled the bar on top of him and was killed.

Eagle County commissioners had allowed use of the buildings after a group of midvalley adults claimed they would take responsibility for the facility and supervise its use.

The Closes and others claimed the site was dangerous and never properly supervised. Eagle County settled a lawsuit with the family in June 2003 after deciding “it was the right thing to do,” officials said at the time.

The buildings were boarded up but in recent years midvalley kids have regained access. Eagle County deputies occasionally can be seen chasing out trespassers.

Johnson said the two abandoned buildings present an “inherent risk” to kids who are using them. “They’ve actually been playing paint ball from the roofs,” he said.

The rectangular buildings are about 42 feet by 140 feet each. When the U.S. Forest Service operated a tree nursery at the property in the 1960s and ’70s, it stored and sorted pine cones in the two buildings.

The buildings are essentially rafters and a roof on supports. They don’t have walls, just framing.

Johnson said he always felt that the buildings would make perfect picnic shelters, for which there is a need around Eagle County parks. A contractor for the county will cut the buildings into at least six sections and reassemble them at their new homes. At least one of the shelters will remain at Crown Mountain Park, a midvalley jewel of ball fields and open space that was once part of the tree farm.

Johnson estimated that 90 percent of the two buildings can be recycled. The shingles cannot be salvaged. He was uncertain when the project will take place, but it will be after the snow melts.

Close said she’s glad the buildings will be removed as a safety precaution and that they will have a new use related to recreation.

The removal of the buildings might indirectly benefit the effort to build a recreation center in the midvalley. There is a limit on the square footage of structures that can be erected at the property. That amount was spelled out by U.S. Congress in the 1990s when it approved a land exchange which removed the property from Forest Service possession and gave it to Eagle and Pitkin counties.

That square footage could be used for the proposed rec center, said Bill Reynolds, an organizer of the plan. In addition, the removal of the buildings clears land identified as a possible site for the rec center, Reynolds said.

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