Thursday, November 23, 2017
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County scores riverfront property

$1 million cost could be reimbursed by U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

By Toni Todd

Gunnison County is now the proud owner of what was once the Shady Island subdivision, just north of Gunnison adjacent to Garlic Mike’s, on the east side of Highway 135. The property has long been uninhabited, but was once a trailer park called Shady Island Resort.

The 11.74-acre-parcel was purchased from Verzuh Ranch Inc. for $1 million, but may not cost the county anything in the long run. Officials are banking on an agreement struck between the county and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) decades ago, when the BOR promised to compensate the local community for miles of river access lost to the creation of Blue Mesa Reservoir. The BOR is therefore expected to reimburse the county for the cost of the land. Representatives of the BOR took a site tour of the property with county officials last week.

“Before we entered into any agreement on the property, there were discussions with the Bureau of Reclamation to gauge their level of interest in partnering with the county in the acquisition, and to see if it would apply to their mitigation responsibilities for fishing/river access lost under Blue Mesa reservoir,” said County Commissioner John Messner.

“They indicated that the project may very well meet those requirements and are continuing to work with the county on securing funds for the acquisition,” continued Messner. “John Whitney from [U.S.] Senator Michael Bennet’s office, has also been integral in helping develop partnerships for the project, all of which are ongoing. In addition, there was consultation with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to determine if they thought the property would be an appropriate river access/fishing amenity and they indicated that they thought it would and expressed interest in working with us on the project.”

Faint remnants of small cabins and an RV park are still evident on the property, but it’s now mostly empty, an open, cottonwood and spruce forest, with a few old RV hook-up spigots still visible and some junk left behind by illegal campers. The most notable aspect of Shady Island is that a river runs through it—namely, the Gunnison, with a natural width of river rock sloping gently to the shoreline at one spot, perfect for new boat ramp.

“We look forward to working with the constituents and stakeholders throughout Gunnison County to create a community amenity that highlights and improves access to one of our most important regional assets,” said Messner.

The unofficial boat ramp at the Garlic Mike’s bridge on the west side of Highway 135 is congested daily throughout the summer, far exceeding its capacity. The new boat ramp will not replace the current ramp, but will provide an additional access point across the highway and a short distance upriver, taking some of the pressure off the put-in at the bridge.

County officials say improved river access and use of the Gunnison River has long been a priority. They’ll soon launch a public planning process to assist them in determining the future design and use of the area. During development and construction of this project, public access to the property will not be allowed, as several safety concerns exist.

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