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Hawk Greenway: Guest opinion

Hawk Greenway
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Here is a land exchange proposal the public should support. At long last comes the Pitkin County response to the Wexner Two Shoes/Sutey Ranch land exchange.

You will recall that the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board unanimously recommended to the county commissioners that they reject the Wexner proposal to privatize 1,268 acres of public land in Pitkin County.

The Wexner team had demanded an urgent reply last February, after putting a “take it or leave it” lopsided proposal on the table. At the request of the Pitkin County commissioners, Dale Will of the Open Space and Trails program has, in cooperation with Community Development, the county attorney’s office, and the Open Space and Trails volunteer citizen Board, recommended a rational land exchange that is in the public interest.

Well, when it comes to preserving our public lands heritage in the Roaring Fork Valley, good things come to those who wait. It takes time to sort out the details of such land-use proposals. Enormous amounts of staff and board times went into considering all the angles (many of which seemed to be constantly changing) of what the Wexner lobby initially had requested. They had demanded a solemn, binding contract with Pitkin County to support their privately biased exchange at the congressional level.

Facing a masterful public relations campaign (what else would you expect from the owner of such a powerful marketer as Victoria’s Secret?), the Pitkin County team refused to be stampeded into precipitously accepting at face value an exchange which would have forever locked away from the public the National Forest and BLM lands which belong to all of us. After all, disposal of public open space land is forever. Losing publicly owned lands is not something to be taken lightly, or hurried through. Ask the Native Americans if they have any regrets. Trade Manhattan for a few beads and blankets, anyone?

There is a tension in our community between private interests and public interests. I think this is healthy. It is a good thing to acknowledge and approach with our eyes open and with level heads.

We do need to seek balance of such interests. While I would love it if Wexner suddenly saw the light and decided to donate his Sopris ranches and their 27 vested development rights (good for more than 200,000 square feet of starter castles and a few really big castles) to the people of the United States for a new Mount Sopris National Park, I do not expect him to do so.

The Pitkin County proposal balances his desire for an immense block of private land surrounding his 27 development rights with the public interest in a publicly owned and accessible route from the northwestern flank of Mt. Sopris through adjacent Pitkin County open space parcels to the Highway 133 corridor.

It is a “win-win” proposal, one which has gained the unanimous support of the Open Space and Trails Board. This new Pitkin County proposal to trade approximately 1,072 acres of public lands to Mr. Wexner in return for approximately 1,055 acres of private lands (including the Sutey Ranch in Garfield County) is a fair trade.

It essentially rationalizes the sometimes nonsensical public and private land ownership boundaries in a way that will help the landscape work for all. I urge everyone to look carefully at the Pitkin County proposal and support it if they can. This might actually turn out to be a no-brainer after all.


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