Windstar easement a go, but parking isn’t |

Windstar easement a go, but parking isn’t

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times

Public access to the Windstar nature preserve in Old Snowmass was granted by Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday, but finding parking will be another issue for its users.

Commissioners, by a 5-0 vote, approved an ordinance for a public-access easement across private property located between Snowmass Creek and the 957-acre Windstar property, once owned by John Denver. The private property is owned by Adelaide Zabriskie, who “has agreed to grant an access easement directly to Pitkin County to guarantee that the public access to this land is secure,” according to a memo to commissioners from Dale Will, director of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails.

Windstar is popular among equestrians and hikers, with some occasional bike riders. The county acquired a 927-acre conservation and public easement there in December 1996, and the public has used a driveway for parking to access the property since 1979.

But that driveway and the Windstar preserve, once owned by the Rocky Mountain Institute, were sold for $8.5 million in 2013 to Five Valley Farm LLC, which is controlled by Houston billionaire Jeff Hildebrand. Hildebrand, however, doesn’t want motorists to park there after the institute relocates to Basalt. He has rights to build a single-family home on 30 acres of the land, but the remaining 927 acres can’t be developed because of the conservation easement.

“The old parking lot is still open to the public, and my understanding is it will remain open this fall when RMI is still occupying the old building, so I would encourage people to use it,” said Dale Will, director of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails.

County Attorney John Ely advised commissioners to approve the ordinance but continue to seek ways to find parking. They agreed and said they would.

Attending the meeting was Glenwood Spring resident Jennifer Moore, who is disabled and asked commissioners to find parking. Otherwise, she said, she and other users won’t be able to access the easement.

“If there’s anything to be done to salvage it, I would truly appreciate it,” she said.

Old Snowmass resident Kevin Ward, who did not attend the meeting because of an emergency, has been critical of the county’s process. In a letter he had prepared to read to the county, he said he was set to sell the county his ranch near Windstar to preserve parking. But the county declined.

His letter said Hildebrand now has exclusive use of access to Windstar because he is keeping his driveway off limits to the public.

“I have watched as this county slips from John Denver’s ideals to the ‘money talks, nature walks,’” he wrote. “I have done everything I can to prevent that from infecting us here in our valley. But the way I see it, thanks to (Open Space and Trails) and the BOCC who were entrusted with preserving Windstar, a private buyer has just been given a 927-acre gift. And John Denver’s tribe has been betrayed.”