Saturday, June 6, 2020

Long Lake land exchange nears the finish for CB Land Trust

Land Trust looking for remaining $450k

By Katherine Nettles

The Crested Butte Land Trust is closing in on a complex land swap involving the Gunnison National Forest, Long Lake and Copley Lake with a major windfall for affordable housing funds, and the transaction might be completed by the end of the year.

The land exchange is meant to reorganize key land parcels between three parties—the Land Trust, the U.S. Forest Service and the Trust for Public Land—so that those properties can be managed more appropriately to scale within organizations best suited for the task.

CBLT executive director Noel Durant gave the Gunnison County commissioners an update on October 8 at their regular board meeting, reviewing the details of the ongoing exchange.

About 628 acres of private inholdings will be conveyed to the Gunnison National Forest, including 613 acres on Fossil Ridge near Lost Canyon and 15 acres that the Land Trust owns on Copley Lake near Lake Irwin. These acres will fit in with surrounding National Forest property, making the parcels more manageable within that one entity.

The Land Trust is in turn under contract to acquire 120 acres along the east side of Long Lake from the USFS, ensuring the relatively small parcel will maintain its historic public access. The Land Trust will then manage the Long Lake area and its recreational use.

The Fossil Ridge property is owned by the Trust for Public Land, and is the last remaining parcel of the Butch and Judy Clark properties, which they donated with the stipulation that funding generated from the purchase be donated to the Valley Housing Fund (formerly the Gunnison Valley Housing Foundation). The Valley Housing Fund will keep 15 acres that surrounds the historic Jorgensen/Clark Cabin, said Durant.

The sum of this exchange, including what Durant described as “real estate price to acquire Fossil Ridge, our due diligence costs, our stewardship funds for the ongoing care of Long Lake, temporary funds that we will use for infrastructure improvements on the property and our project administration costs is—all in, about $3.3 million.”

Durant noted, “We have raised all but $450,000 of that, and have close to $200,000 in funding proposals under consideration,” citing that the Land trust is securing bridge funding from individual and institutional sources.

“We should be well set to close the exchange, I am thinking either late November or early December,” he said.

There are a few details to finalize, such as replacing a reciprocal easement between the National Forest and Pristine Point neighborhood and landowners. The county also has an easement for the current parking across the road from the dam and the Land Trust would like to work with the county and neighbors to come up with a better solution to minimize congestion on Washington Gulch Road. So the parties are working to complete the new easement by the end of November.

Another key point to the easement is coming up with a better approach for vehicular parking, with pedestrian and bike access to avoid the confusion of people driving across the dam and then finding nowhere to park. The Land Trust will retain the right to use the road for specific occasional uses, but Durant said, “We want to be sure we’re coming up with a really sustainable solution,” and the designated area for parking will be the established parking area across from the dam on Washington Gulch Road.

Commissioner Roland Mason asked if the other access point to Long Lake would still be accessible to the public in the future. The steep access trail was re-routed this fall to restore overused areas. Durant said the access point has been improved, and since it is on the Allen family property, the plan is to sign that area to inform people that it is private property. Mason cautioned that there is no guarantee the Allens will always give the public access, however. The ranching family is feeling the impacts of the repeated public use, he said.

“It’s just sort of a free-for-all in terms of how the public is using that property,” said Durant.

This has included unauthorized camping, unauthorized and unattended campfires and visitors traversing around to the other side of the lake—key grazing lands for the Allen family’s cattle herds.

Durant reported that on October 6, the Land Trust dismantled four campsites at Long Lake on the Allen property. Durant said there is a need for good, consistent messaging, which has so far been lacking in that area. “We will be working on a land management plan that focuses on how to better steward our future property and the key points of access for the public,” he said, including potential grants for infrastructure funding to provide restroom facilities, a reconfigured parking area and trail alignment.

The Land Trust hopes to provide universal trail access to Long Lake, as the Crested Butte Adaptive Sports Center and other users with disabilities could benefit from improvements in accessibility.

“I really appreciate the work that you’ve put in to all this,” said commissioner John Messner, noting the overall public amenity and lengthy fundraising process.

“$2.5 million for affordable housing will be one end result, too. And a windfall for water planning,” said Durant. The exchange will better help water users, the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and the Mt. Crested Butte Water and Sanitation District more efficiently store water through pumped storage in Long Lake versus a new reservoir.

“Having local control over that piece of property makes a lot of sense,” said commissioner Mason.

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