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Eleven withdraws Irwin development plan from county and Forest Service

So no new trailhead or reroute to Scarp Ridge

by Mark Reaman

The Eleven group has hit the pause button on development plans for the Lake Irwin area and the old lodge.

Eleven attorney David Leinsdorf confirmed that Eleven and Scarp Ridge LLC has let its sketch plan approvals at Gunnison County expire. He said there are not yet any other plans in the works. The group has also withdrawn its request to have the Forest Service close public access to the lodge.

Gunnison County senior planner Cathie Pagano said the county received a letter dated January 29 from Leinsdorf withdrawing the Land Use Change application. “The applicants were required to submit a Preliminary Plan by February 4, 2016 and they did not meet that deadline,” she explained. “The Sketch Plan approval is now void and any development proposals will require a new application to be submitted.”

The Lake Irwin Coalition (LIC) is considering this a victory but one that may not last forever.

“The withdrawal of Eleven’s development proposals before the USFS and Gunnison County means that presently there is no longer an active proposal by Eleven to vacate or change public access around the old Irwin Lodge and access to Scarp Ridge,” said LIC president David Gottorff. “For the moment at least, it means the LIC has been successful in protecting public access on Scarp Ridge from Eleven’s development plans.

“The LIC does expect Eleven to submit a new development plan at some point in the future, but the LIC expects that any new plan Eleven proposes will not include vacating, or changing, public access around the Irwin Lodge, or to Scarp Ridge,” Gottorff continued. “We feel it will need to reflect the spirit of the reciprocal use agreement which helps manage the public and private commercial use in the Scarp Ridge area. Even though the LIC considers this to be a victory for the public and public access on Scarp Ridge, our organization will continue to remain vigilant in the protection of public access and the environment in the Lake Irwin area.”

Eleven’s managing director of assets and development John Featherman emphasized that public access to Scarp Ridge has never been in danger of being closed and in fact the plan that was on the table provided better parking options, public bathrooms and a longer but more diverse hike to the ridge. “Not only did we think it was a good improvement over the current situation, the Gunnison County Trails Commission along with the Forest Service seemed to think it was a win-win for everyone and addressed the problems that are there with the trail. The general public came out ahead with the improvements,” Featherman said.

“I have to admit that we got frustrated and have decided there are other places to invest our money at the moment,” Featherman explained. “The company isn’t about large developments; it is about well-done development. We thought a trailhead would be a good thing. It feels like the public got caught up in a lot of misinformation being put out by a group that doesn’t agree with Eleven and what we are doing. So we will pause and reorganize right now. But the same problems and issues that were evident last summer will be there again. We’re bummed about that.”

Gottorff said the fight to keep access to the Scarp Ridge trail from the easement that the LIC contends goes into the Irwin Lodge parking lot remains on the table. But he believes a public airing of the issue is one reason Eleven is backing off from its original plan that was filed in the county and with the Forest Service.

“Eleven’s illegal blocking of the trailhead parking area at the old Irwin Lodge still needs to be addressed by the USFS,” Gottorff said. “The LIC looks forward to a future where Chad Pike’s company stops deterring the public from using legally established USFS trails and roads across his property by erecting boulder obstructions and placing ‘No Trespassing’ signs on Forest Service land and on trails. From the perspective of the LIC, during the discussions Eleven had with the USFS it became clear that the public opposition against vacating the easement as well as legal documentation supporting the easements meant the USFS was unwilling to support their vacation. The LIC believes this directly contributed to Eleven’s withdrawal of their development proposal.”

Gunnison District forest ranger John Murphy said the development proposal that was on the table included access across the Gunnison National Forest to patented mining claims. His understanding is that is no longer being considered. “The easements are a whole other issue,” Murphy said. “This issue is being characterized as a title dispute and we hope to meet with David Leinsdorf on this issue sometime soon. There is no agreed-upon resolution to this issue at this time.”

Leinsdorf said no other plans for development of the lodge or the area is in the works at this time and there is no timeline to get a new development proposal before the authorizing agencies.

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