Tim McFlynn: Guest Opinion
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
Your vote is needed to make a magical meadow in the heart of upper Castle Creek Valley a permanent part of your national forest. As Neil Young so aptly put it in song, “that’s how we kept what we gave away.”
When the Forest Service was strapped for cash in 1999, Parcel Ryan was purchased by Pitkin County Open Space and the Aspen Valley Land Trust (AVLT) to stop development of a monster home in the large meadow above the historic Ashcroft townsite and Toklat. The Open Space Board and AVLT then had extensive negotiations with the Forest Service to identify other federal lands that could be exchanged for Ryan to repay this emergency “loan” to save Parcel Ryan. The feds at the time were planning to dispose of other lands in the valley that merited protection as permanent open space: a 40-acre BLM “isolate” straddling the Crystal River deemed insufficiently contiguous to merit permanent management, and 12 “patent remnants” on Smuggler Mountain!
These two vital parcels were agreed to be acceptable “payments” for the Ryan parcel. However, their total market value was less than Ryan, and consequently additional consideration was required to package an equitable “exchange.” So the Forest Service identified the Means cabin site on a small lot east of Aspen where a title dispute had simmered for over 60 years with a private party. Never shying from challenging negotiations, Open Space achieved a tentative settlement of the title dispute whereby the private party has agreed to buy out the federal claim of ownership, raising $2 million in new Open Space funds for the purchase of an extraordinary 266 acres known as “Sawmill Hill.” This extraordinary landscape towers over the Redstone Castle, boasts extraordinary trails with views of Chair Mountain and a magnificent Ponderosa Pine forest, and includes the tallest ice climb in our valley, the Redstone Pillar.
But for the diligence of local citizens, the County Open Space Program and AVLT, all of these parcels could have slipped into private development. To adapt a phrase from Neil’s friend Joni Mitchell, we say “we DO know what we got BEFORE it’s gone!”
Flashback to the onset of World War II and the race to train our mountain troops for some tough duty in the Alps. Ted Ryan welcomed an early detachment of the 10th Mountain Division to this property in upper Castle Creek where he had hoped to develop a ski resort. The Ryan inholdings then sat for the next several decades, while nearby Stuart Mace extolled to all who would listen the value of native lands. Starting in the early 1980s, Mace’s cause was supported by other conservationists such as ACES’s Tom Cardamone and the Conservation Fund’s Tom and Sydney Macy to secure federal funding for USFS purchase of hundreds of acres in upper Castle Creek, including the Ashcroft town site, but leaving Parcel Ryan at risk ” until now!
By the early 1990s, federal funding priorities had changed. But in 1989 Connie Harvey persuaded me to help establish a Pitkin County Open Space program. While this nascent program gained public support, Parcel Ryan was traded among private buyers and in 1999 approvals were in place for a 15,000 square foot house in the middle of the meadow. This development would have fractured the upper Castle Creek basin and ended ski touring there as we know it today.
Fortunately, with its program enthusiastically reauthorized by the voters in 1999, the Open Space Board was prepared to intervene. With support from AVLT, Stuart’s daughter Lynne Mace, and the Forest Service (by promising a land exchange), the county invested a full year of its total open space funding to keep the parcel intact.
The board, led on this transaction by Tom Cardamone and Rick Neiley, knew that it was better to allocate these funds than loose the upper end of the Castle Creek Valley. Many trips to Washington, D.C. ensued where Martha Cochran, Patti Clapper, Andy Weisner and Dale Will convinced the U.S. Congress of the national importance of the Ashcroft landscape and the need for an equitable exchange of land. The “Pitkin County Land Exchange Act of 2006” was championed by Mark Udall, Ken and John Salazar, and Wayne Allard. During his testimony before the House of
Representatives, Rep. Udall revealed that his own environmental ethics were formed in part during his residence at a small cabin in Ashcroft mentored by Stuart Mace!
All that now remains to complete the Saving of Parcel Ryan is for you to vote yes on Pitkin County Ballot Question 1C. Not only will Ryan actually remain ours forever, but our effort in seeing this be so also will secure, without additional taxpayer expense, other threatened lands on the Crystal River, Smuggler mountain, and Sawmill Hill. Neil and Joni would be proud. So would Stuart and Isabel Mace.
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