Equestrians want to take reins on Sutey Ranch plan
Members of the Roaring Fork Valley Horse Council went before Garfield County commissioners Monday in hopes of receiving support for their proposal to protect the newly acquired piece of federal public land north of Carbondale for horseback riders.
The 557-acre Sutey Ranch, a former working ranch adjacent to the Red Hill Special Recreation Area, is now in the hands of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management following a complicated multi-party land exchange that was completed last year.
The BLM is in the process of developing a management plan for that and one other Carbondale-area property, known as the Haines parcel along Prince Creek Road south of town.
RFVHC says it hopes to receive support from the commissioners to keep the Sutey site in particular free of mountain bikers.
Last year, following several years of negotiations that culminated in congressional approval, the BLM agreed to exchange public lands adjacent to the Two Shoes Ranch south of Carbondale for the 557-acre Sutey Ranch and Haines parcels. Recently, the agency has been asking for public comments on how the properties should be managed.
“Public involvement will continue to play a critical role as we move forward with site-specific planning for the Sutey and Haines parcels,” said Acting BLM Colorado River Valley Field Manager Gloria Tibbetts.
“Before we begin drafting the management plan for these parcels, we want to hear from the public about any issues or concerns they would like us to address,” Tibbetts said. “We welcome and value diverse views from the communities we serve.”
The BLM hosted a public open house in Carbondale on July 12, and comments from the general public on the management of the lands needed to be received by Sunday. Local governments can still offer their comments.
Members of RFVHC have submitted comments, as well as letters to the editor in the past few weeks, voicing their desire to protect the land for horseback riding exclusively.
In her presentation to the commissioners on Monday, RFVHC Communications Chairman Holly McLain said she wanted to see the county commissioners “stand up and save the horse use” at Sutey Ranch, in part by excluding mountain biking on the property.
“Our hope is that after you hear all points of view you will write a letter of support to the BLM keeping the existing use of hiking and horseback riding on Sutey Ranch,” the letter to the commissioners read. “We ask that the Sutey Ranch be the one place where we can ride horses without mountain bikes, and without the fear and anxiety caused by fast moving mountain bikes.”
Garfield and Pitkin counties have miles of trails designated for mountain biking, she added, and RFVHC wants special protection for horseback riders and hikers on at least some of the public lands administered by the BLM.
The horseback riding group believes that fast-moving mountain bikes at Sutey will be devastating for wildlife, and will disrupt the peace and tranquility of the land for horseback riders and those on foot.
While the commissioners did not make a decision one way or the other on Monday, they did speak to keeping Garfield County’s western heritage intact.
“It is no mystery [we] love horseback riding,” Commissioner John Martin said. “We appreciate all the efforts you do on behalf of the horseback riding community, and I think there is still compromise there.”
“I’d like to see the big picture before I make any decision,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said.
Roaring Fork Mountain Biking Association Executive Director Mike Pritchard said Monday that he’s excited the planning process is underway on Sutey Ranch, and is confident that the BLM will make its decision based on everyone’s point of view.
He said RFMBA supported the land exchange and is excited to see all of the recreation opportunities the new public lands will bring.
Pritchard also said he thinks there is enough acreage for all users to enjoy Sutey Ranch.
According to the BLM, the adjacent Red Hill Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA) receives more than 55,000 visitors per year, participating in hiking, running, mountain biking, horseback riding and some hunting.
The area is overseen by the appointed users’ group known as the Red Hill Council. Member Chris Brandt said that, while many on the council are mountain biker users, the council does not have a hierarchy of preferred uses for the adjacent ranch parcel.
Red Hill Council President Davis Farrar agreed, stating that the council supports non-motorized use for the Sutey parcel, pursuant to the Red Hill SRMA.