A triple-win for the community
The first piece of the pie from a large land donation in Fossil Ridge might be sliced in the near future. And it will ultimately benefit the Gunnison Valley Housing Authority, the Trust for Public Land, the Forest Service and a closed uranium mine near Sargents.
About two years ago, Butch and Judy Clark donated a 960-acre parcel of land near the Fossil Ridge Wilderness Area. The Homestake Mining Company wants to purchase some of that property, which is being held by the Trust for Public Land. The land was donated with the understanding that money earned from the property would be donated to a newly formed Gunnison Valley Housing Foundation and workforce housing in Gunnison County.
If this complicated exchange is approved by the U.S. Forest Service supervisor, Homestake would exchange the parcel with the Forest Service for 701 acres of land surrounding the old Pitch Mine, located near Marshall Pass. That mine closed in 1984 and reclamation has been taking place since. The mining company wants to privatize some of the adjacent land in order to stabilize those reclamation efforts. That would also allow the U.S. Forest Service to remove itself from reclamation oversight and give the entire authority to the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.
When the Clarks originally donated the land, their goal was to eventually provide needed housing for the county.
So, this week the Forest Service will begin the scoping process for the idea. The public can comment on the idea through the Forest Service for the next 45 days. An appraisal will be done that will determine the value of the 701 acres near the mine and the value of acreage in Fossil Ridge. A value-for-value exchange could then be implemented, so it’s likely that approximately 200 acres would be sliced from the Fossil Ridge parcel and purchased from the Trust for Public Land by Homestake.
That slice of property would then go directly to the Forest Service. Any money generated would substantially go to the housing group. The Western Land Group is facilitating the whole exchange process.
“This first land exchange is very exciting,” said Gunnison Valley Housing Foundation (GVHF) president Jim Starr. “The foundation board, which includes members from the municipalities, the county, Western State Colorado University and other entities, has been meeting for over two years now and it is great to feel that we will have financial resources for creating workforce and other housing for our low-income residents.”
The Trust for Public Land agrees. “This is really a triple-win for the community. More open space will be protected, more resources will be available for affordable housing, and mine reclamation efforts can move forward more efficiently,” said the TPL’s Justin Spring.
Starr said the board is in the process of identifying various potential projects that will then be prioritized. He noted they range from working to mitigate the impacts of sudden housing needs if a new large project is initiated in the county, to providing housing for those with mental health challenges. Starr said it is estimated that this first land exchange might bring the foundation about $600,000.
“I feel great about this project,” Starr emphasized. “The Homestake Mining Company will be able to move closer to completion of their work to reclaim the land impacted by their historic mine, and TPL and the GVHF will obtain more resources for their work to conserve important landscapes and provide lower cost housing, respectively. All of these efforts are in the public interest.”
Most of the remainder of the 960 acres not included in the land exchange with Homestake will be conveyed to the Forest Service in future land transactions. Separately, the TPL is working to donate 15 acres around the old Governor’s cabin to the Gunnison Valley Housing Foundation. The Forest Supervisor hopes to make a decision on the proposed land exchange by the end of the year.