BLM set to complete land swap opening bike terrain near Carbondale | PostIndependent.com

BLM set to complete land swap opening bike terrain near Carbondale

A land trade that will put nearly 670 acres into the public's hands, opening up new areas near Carbondale for mountain biking and other recreational activities, is set to be finalized this week.

U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials and proponents of the Sutey Ranch land exchange will be signing the final documents Thursday to complete the deal involving lands in Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle counties.

"This is great news for public lands in the Roaring Fork Valley," Shonna Dooman, acting field manager of the BLM's Colorado River Valley Field Office, said in a news release. "This land exchange provides a substantial public benefit by conserving lands for wildlife, providing opportunities for recreation, and consolidating land ownership."

The 557-acre Sutey Ranch north of Carbondale, adjacent to the Red Hill Recreation Area, and the 112-acre Haines parcel along Prince Creek Road that's part of the popular Crown trails network southeast of Carbondale, will be transferred to the BLM.

In exchange, the BLM will give up about 1,268 acres that will become part of Leslie and Abigail Wexner's Two Shoes Ranch in the upper Prince Creek area. Those parcels will be permanently protected from development through conservation easements.

In Eagle County, BLM exchanged three parcels southwest of Eagle totaling 201 acres on Horse Mountain that have little public access.

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According to the BLM, the Sutey Ranch provides critical big game winter habitat and has the potential to provide significant recreational opportunities as an extension of the Red Hill area, pending completion of a management plan that may allow for access from the north along Garfield County Road 112.

Until then, public access to the newly acquired public lands will be limited to foot travel only from the Red Hill trails network to the south.

"While we will consider public access to this property off County Road 112 in the future, there is currently no safe place to park," Dooman said. Until that happens, no motorized or mechanized access on the Sutey Ranch or parking along the county road will be permitted.

Acquiring the Haines parcel resolves the more immediate issue of trespassing, traffic and safety problems on private land that's used as part of the Crown trail system. Mountain bikers and others have been using private land to access the public trail system for several years.

"They can now do so without trespassing," Dooman said.

Mike Pritchard, executive director of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association, said the Sutey Ranch will allow a "high-quality expansion" of the Red Hill area that his organization supports.

While the RFMBA was initially hesitant to jump on board with the exchange due to concerns from Pitkin County and some conservation groups about the discrepancy in acreage being traded into private hands, the addition of the Haines parcel helped seal the organization's support, he said.

"The land exchange proposal has been greatly improved by the tenacity of its adversaries, to the benefit of mountain bikers," Pritchard said. "The inclusion of the Haines parcel, known to most riders as the lowest elevation portion of the Crown BLM or Prince Creek area trail system, will serve to make official the entirety of the following well-used and well-loved trails: Monte Carlo, South Porcupine, Christmas Tree, Trough and Ginormous.

"RFMBA and its supporters and volunteers look forward to working with the BLM to maintain and improve these trails to the benefit of local and visiting riders and other trail users," he said.

The Wexners also agreed to donate $100,000 to the BLM for the development of the management plan for the Sutey Ranch. They will also give $1 million to the Aspen Valley Land Trust to hold in perpetuity for BLM's long-term management of the newly acquired properties.

"We want to begin developing the management plan for the Sutey Ranch property as soon as possible and will likely seek public involvement beginning this spring," Dooman said.

The exchange is the result of a proposal brought to the BLM by the Western Land Group in 2011.

Land exchanges are evaluated on a value-for-value rather than an acre-for-acre basis, Dooman explained. Because the appraisals from the initial proposal were skewed so far on the federal government's side, an additional 235 acres of the Sutey property valued at $2.24 million was added.

"Rather than request a cash equalization payment to balance the value of the exchange, the proponents made a significant donation in land value to the public," Dooman said.