Tony Vagneur: Slippery slope with Pitkin County Open Space and Trails |

Tony Vagneur: Slippery slope with Pitkin County Open Space and Trails

Big news in Emma, apparently. If you’ve been keeping up with the burgeoning corporate-like growth and management of the Open Space and Trails group (hereinafter referred to as OST), you likely know that officials of that consortium are patting themselves on the back, prematurely, for restoring Emma to being the “breadbasket” of the Roaring Fork Valley.

Such backhanded insults do not go unnoticed by the rest of the valley farmers, ranchers and other long-timers who might have a different opinion of where the breadbasket was/is located.

In case you didn’t read the front-page article, two Emma properties totaling 22 acres (managed by OST) will be leased to a relatively unknown company, Two Roots Farm, to raise organic vegetables, etc. This lease likely would be for two consecutive 10-year periods. In human terms, that’s about a generation. OST is going to subsidize Two Roots by putting in a well- and wash-house building. Wait until the public sees all the hoop houses dotting the landscape, necessary for vegetable growing in cold weather.

It’s been said about boards (company or otherwise), and I’ve served on a few, that they should fly at 30,000 feet, staying above the minutia that hits managers and employees in the knees. Clearly, the entire OST lot, from the board on down, is in the clouds. They’ve already stepped on all available male appendages with their Crystal River bike trail vision (referred to now as a pedestrian trail?); now they’re going to step on their tails with this cockamamie Emma project.

So far, Pitkin County has a huge investment in Emma, what with buying the dilapidated old buildings, trying to stabilize them, and finally putting the project on hold, covering up the facade with plywood caricatures like you might find in a Spaghetti Western town.

Additionally, Pitkin County has plowed tax money into Emma Farms, the Salstonstall property, Tom Clark’s spread, the Glassier ranch and other properties. This all adds up to some real money, like around $6 million or more, and some of the properties aren’t even in Pitkin County.

Those Two Roots folks, inexperienced as they are, have a great attitude about what they do, but in their zeal to get some leased land, perhaps they’d better get a good legal team to help them negotiate with Pitkin County and OST. They’re dealing with a behemoth that knows very little about agriculture and maybe even less about integrity.

Harsh, I know, but let me give you an example. Several years ago, Pitkin County OST approached me to enter into a contract with them for use of the Emma School property. Being a fourth-generation valley rancher, offspring of John Sloss whose brother James at one time owned the Emma Store, plus my maternal grandmother taught school at Emma, it all made sense historically.

Additionally, they wanted the property to be used for growing hay and cattle grazing. Perfect. Two friends and I had put together a loosely organized business that did precisely that — raised beef and hay — and our headquarters were in the immediate neighborhood of the schoolhouse.

Asking for a five-year lease because I wanted to do some partial crop rotation and raise some grains, I was told by Paul Holsinger, lease manager, such was impossible as the land had been targeted for future community gardens. Later, on a site visit, Holsinger lauded me for doing an excellent job and for doing exactly what the county wanted.

That fall, scarcely a month later, Holsinger talked out of the other side of his mouth and informed me that the lease for the next year would be awarded to someone else. There was not an opportunity to bid for an additional year, nor was I given a reason for my unexplained dismissal.

The man to whom Holsinger intended to lease the land, upon finding out the underhanded nature of Pitkin County, offered to forego his opportunity to lease the land (he was offered a five-year lease, to boot!). Thank you, but it was clear I could no longer do business with Pitkin County — there was no trust.

After several attempts to set up a get-together with OST and George Newman, a county commissioner and Sopris Creek Caucus member, where I intended to vociferously point out the willy-nilly approach of Holsinger, we finally set a firm date to meet. The night before that meeting was to take place, Dale Will, then OST director, informed me the meeting was off as “tomorrow looks like a powder day.” We never scheduled another meeting, and I never heard from them again.

Clearly, OST needs a leasing policy available to the general public so we all understand what goes on behind closed doors. It seems the procedure operates at the whims of Holsinger and Will (or whoever replaced him), depending on whatever the agricultural trend might be for the moment, no matter how untenable.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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