Use of Saltonstall property will be focus of joint planning
ASPEN – A plan for management of the controversial Saltonstall open space near Emma must win approval from at least two of the three local governments that are partners in its purchase, according to an intergovernmental agreement Pitkin County commissioners approved Wednesday.
The agreement, with Eagle County and the town of Basalt, spells out various details of the acquisition and commits the partners to work cooperatively on a management plan, though the county will have responsibility for actual management of the parcel.
The plan will address public access, trail development, wildlife protection and other considerations on an open space purchase than has drawn both praise and criticism from some members of the public.
The three entities will acquire about 147 acres on Hooks Spur Road in Eagle County. It includes irrigated agricultural land and access connecting the Rio Grande Trail to the Crown, a popular recreation area, particularly with mountain bikers. About 90 acres is on the Crown itself. The southern border of the property is within 1,000 feet of the Pitkin County border, providing access to public land within Pitkin County, according to Dale Will, director of the county’s Open Space and Trails program.
Critics have raised questions about the expenditure of Pitkin County open space funds on an Eagle County property and voiced concern about creating a new gateway to the Crown, bringing the impacts of recreation to an area important to wildlife and ranchers. Currently, Prince Creek Road outside Carbondale is the main portal onto the Crown, 9,000 acres of hilly terrain managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
“The Crown is so overused. This adds another portal. … With an already crowded and impacted situation, I’m just not sure what the future holds,” Commissioner Jack Hatfield said.
“We are going to be working hard to make sure whatever recreation uses we have here don’t jeopardize the habitat,” Will said.
The county already has voiced support for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife call for a winter closure of the Crown to human use. That decision is ultimately up to the BLM, which is at work on a new resource-management plan for its overall holdings in the region. The county has pushed for a sub-area planning effort by the BLM to address the Crown specifically.
The three local governments will hash out uses of the Saltonstall parcel; if there is not unanimous agreement on a management plan, consent by at least two parties is necessary, according to the intergovernmental agreement that commissioners approved unanimously on first reading Wednesday. A second reading and public hearing will take place Aug. 8.
“Our goal is always to have consensus on these things,” Will said.
Commissioners also gave initial approval to an intergovernmental agreement with Great Outdoors Colorado, which is putting $600,000 toward the $5 million Saltonstall purchase. Eagle County is contributing $2 million, Pitkin County is putting up $1.8 million, Basalt is spending $500,000, and the Mid Valley Trails Committee has committed $50,000.
The Saltonstall purchase also includes a conservation easement on a separate 40-acre parcel along the Roaring Fork River, on the opposite side of Hooks Spur Road from the bulk of the property.
Commissioner George Newman asked Will why the county didn’t pursue a conservation easement for all of the property rather than an outright purchase of the main parcel.
The land was on the market, Will said. An easement would have cost almost as much as the purchase and left significant development rights on the parcel, he added.
Mostly, Will said, the owner wants to sell the property rather than protect it with an easement.
Also on Wednesday, county commissioners gave initial approval to the purchase of 114 acres within the Shield-O Mesa subdivision in Old Snowmass as open space.
The $667,000 purchase price includes $475,000 to buy the land out of foreclosure plus $192,000 due the county Treasurer’s Office in back taxes. The property would provide new access to the Windstar property to the north, where the county co-holds a conservation easement on 957 acres of land that is open to public use.
The Shield-O purchase hinges on working out an arrangement with the subdivision’s road association to allow public access to the open space via the subdivision’s private roads and working out a parking plan for open space users.
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