Aspen Times editorial: Future of midvalley parcel near park, river worthy of public’s attention
A process is quietly unfolding in the midvalley that residents need to be aware of and be prepared to join later this year to help determine how some vital public lands get used.
Eagle County and the U.S. Forest Service have started holding “listening sessions” to discuss the future uses of 70 acres of national forest land and 6 acres of county-owned land adjacent to Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel.
Some of this property is as important to midvalley residents who love the outdoors as Smuggler Mountain is to Aspen residents. The property includes a bench of 40 acres along the Roaring Fork River that provides hiking, access for anglers, wildlife habitat and glimpses of a rare orchid known as Ute Lady’s Tresses.
In short, the property is an oasis in a rapidly growing midvalley.
Forest Service officials have vowed the lower bench will not be developed. Another 30 acres strung along Valley Road is considered “developable” by the agency.
So far, the discussion has been limited to people who were invited to participate — neighbors, community leaders, agencies and “potential partners,” according to a February news release from Eagle County. To its credit, the county also allowed other people to join the discussion when they asked.
Once the current sessions are concluded, a report will be submitted to the county staff and ultimately the county commissioners about the opportunities and challenges associated with the properties.
Eagle County and the Forest Service officials vow there will be “numerous opportunities for public review and input.” The Forest Service anticipates releasing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement in late summer or early fall on its proposal to sell or lease its 70 acres. That process legally requires public comment. In a separate process, the county says it will hold public meetings.
These processes have a way of slipping under the public radar. People leading their busy lives typically don’t have time to figure out when or how to jump into processes that are alien to them and continue for an extended time.
There is little doubt that people care about the property. Crown Mountain Park receives hundreds of thousands of visits annually — ranging from participants in organized sports to people walking their dogs.
We’re a bit wary about a report being produced for the county commissioners from the current sessions with limited public participation. We would hate to see a process where input by the public-at-large is overshadowed by the opinions of a limited number of stakeholders.
This is public land. Everyone is a stakeholder.
For the interested public, we would say stay tuned and watch for more information about the process. The future of this important piece of public land has to be shaped by a robust community conversation.
The Aspen Times editorial board is comprised of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause, reporters Rick Carroll, Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason and copy editor/columnist Sean Beckwith.
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