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Town of Crested Butte contributes $1 million to Long Lake project

“An unbelievably fulfilling project”

by Mark Reaman

The town of Crested Butte committed to donate $1 million to the Crested Butte Land Trust’s $3.4 million Long Lake preservation land exchange project. The money will come from the town’s open space fund that is sourced through the real estate transfer tax (RETT). The council approved the money for the 2019 budget at the Tuesday, August 7 council meeting.

“This is an unbelievably fulfilling project that preserves the lake and funds affordable housing,” noted mayor Jim Schmidt. “This is probably the most attractive project to come before the council as far as land preservation.”

Crested Butte Land Trust (CBLT) executive director Noel Durant gave the council a briefing on the project. He explained the land trust was purchasing 613 acres adjacent to Fossil Ridge and will give that to the Forest Service, along with 15 acres by Copley Lake owned by the CBLT. In exchange the Forest Service will give the CBLT title to 120 acres at the southern end of Long Lake up Washington Gulch. About $2.5 million will be paid for the 613 acres which will then be donated to the Gunnison Valley Housing Foundation to be used for affordable housing in the valley.

“The staff feels this is a high priority,” said Crested Butte community development director Michael Yerman. “The town has adequate reserves in the open space fund.”

Part of the project cost includes money for future management and infrastructure. The idea is to locate signage, a parking area and a bathroom.

Durant said the 120-acre Long Lake parcel was essentially an in-holding for the Forest Service, since it was surrounded by private property. “They don’t like to manage pieces of this size. They would rather it be 120,000 acres,” Durant explained. “It was prioritized as a parcel that could be put up for auction and then it could potentially end up being developed.”

Taking title to the Long Lake parcel would touch on all the CBLT’s conservation values, including the protection of scenic views; maintenance of the recreational access to Long Lake; keeping some wildlife habitat untouched; and protection of some critical ranching land.

Once the exchange is completed, the CBLT will actively manage the property. Parking and seasonal bathroom facilities could ultimately be constructed.

Durant said the Gunnison County Land Preservation Fund has pledged $250,000. Private contributions are close to $80,000, and the CBLT opportunity fund is in for $108,000. Durant said the land trust will pursue several grants to help pay for the transaction as well.

“The Crested Butte Land Trust is incredibly grateful for the town of Crested Butte’s support of the Long Lake Land Exchange,” said Durant. “Our local organization was born out of this community 27 years ago, and to see this longstanding partnership continue with the protection of Long Lake illustrates the importance of open space on the character of Crested Butte. Protecting such a beloved place while reinvesting the proceeds of the land exchange towards affordable housing is an inspirational story that builds on the legacy of our partnership in a way that will provide longstanding benefits for all who hold Crested Butte dear.”

As part of the exchange, the CBLT is going through a federal scoping process. They are conducting two-hour tours of the property, with the next one set for Friday, August 24 at 3 p.m. It will start at the Meridian Lake dam. A car pool will leave the Visitor Center at 2:45 p.m.

Staff will draw up an official funding agreement with the CBLT. The council unanimously voted to approve the expenditure.

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