"This is a steal"
An additional 190 acres of ranch land in the north end of the valley will be preserved due in part to a large donation by the Town of Crested Butte and the continued efforts of the Crested Butte Land Trust.
The Crested Butte Town Council voted unanimously to donate $350,000 to the Land Trust from the Town’s Real Estate Transfer Tax funds for the second phase of the Rozman Ranch conservation easement, at a regular council meeting on Monday, November 19.
The Real Estate Transfer Tax Fund is used, in part, to support the local conservation of open space.
The 500-acre ranch, which is owned by John and Marilyn Rozman, is south of and behind the Riverland Industrial Park. The conservation easement on the north part of the ranch includes sage, forest and wetlands, a mile and half of Slate River, and a gravel pit.
The Rozman Ranch conservation easement is part of the Gunnison Headwaters Project. A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust that permanently protects open space by limiting the amount and type of development that can take place on the land. The land remains in private ownership and owners can continue to live and work on the land.
The 190-acre conservation easement is actually the second of three planned easements on the parcel. The Land Trust has been working with John Rozman since 2002 to preserve his ranch as open space.
The town’s contribution makes up 20 percent of the total cost of $1.6 million for the 190-acre parcel. The Land Trust is also anticipating a Great Outdoors of Colorado grant for $500,000. In addition, the Rozmans have decided to donate approximately 25 percent of the total value of the conservation easement.
The remaining cost of $349,953 will be covered by grants and private donations, according to John Hess, Crested Butte director of planning and community development. Hess serves as a board member for the Land Trust.
Land Trust president Sandy Allen Leinsdorf said fundraising efforts are still on-going; additional grants may be secured from the Gunnison County Land Preservation Board and the 1 Percent for Open Space program. The Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy and the Nature Conservancy are also partners with the Land Trust on this project.
"I think it’s a great price, and great location," Crested Butte mayor Alan Bernholtz said.
While the council approved funding, some council members voiced concern the donation would deplete the open space fund balance beyond the Town’s capacity to replenish it. The Town collected $369,000 in 2007 for the open space fund. After the donation, the fund balance would be left with $236,054.
Town Council member Leah Williams worried that the donation might leave the fund balance too low, considering the nation’s economy.
"Look at the balance this leaves us and with the economic situation—there’s not much hope of contributing to that fund in the future," Williams said.
Leinsdorf told the council she felt it was acceptable to decrease the fund balance because preserving the Rozman Ranch was vital for the valley as she predicts there are only 10 or 15 years left to preserve land before it is sold for development.
"There’s not much left to preserve out there," Leinsdorf said. "We need to pursue opportunities like this and grab it up now."
Bernholtz said he believed funding the easement was a good decision for Crested Butte and the valley.
"The Land Trust has a long-term plan and they are doing a great job," Bernholtz added.
Although Bernholtz spoke highly of the project, he also questioned why public access on the Rozman Ranch conservation easement is limited. Currently, public access is not allowed on the Rozman Ranch without permission from the family.
Bernholtz hoped with the Town’s donation, the family would consider winter pedestrian access to the Gunnison National Forest land adjacent to the property. Bernholtz said current access provided through various easements to Baxter Gulch crosses avalanche-prone areas; therefore, access is granted only from May 1 through October 31.
Baxter Gulch, the gateway to Whetstone Mountain and the old Bulkley Mine Site, lies approximately one mile south of Crested Butte off State Highway 135. The Forest Service considered suing for access to the public lands in Baxter Gulch, but in May 2002 it essentially passed this issue back to the county and the Town of Crested Butte. Since then, the Land Trust has worked with the town and the county to resolve the issue.
"I think the project is great, but I just would love access," Bernholtz said.
Land Trust attorney Jim Starr said the Land Trust and Gunnison County are "very close" to securing winter access up to Baxter Gulch that would not cross the ranch.
"John (Rozman) has taken a financial hit to have three easements on his land, and I don’t think it’s appropriate to push him to put access up there," Starr added.
Town Council member Dan Escalante suggested placing public access along the gravel pit. "Some kind of access would go a long way," Escalante added.
Leinsdorf agreed with the council members that the question of access should be asked, but also expressed concern with allowing public access on ranch lands. She noted that access for humans means access for dogs as well, and leash rules are often ignored.
"Public access and ranching is really hard to mix," Leinsdorf said. "Many people have dogs and only 10 percent will follow the rules—we can’t run the risk."
Town Council member Skip Berkshire said access issues should not preclude the purchase and encouraged the council to support the Land Trust’s actions, recommending the Land Trust work to make the purchase happen.
"I am confident the Land Trust is looking at the community’s greater good—I would rather have this, than not to have it over access. It’s a steal," Berkshire said.
Generally, with a few exceptions, conservation easements do not allow public access, unless it is for trail access to begin with, according Hess. However, when the Land Trust owns the property outright it can choose to grant public access, Hess added.
Despite concerns over access and the fund balance, the Town Council voted unanimously to donate $350,000 to the Land Trust for the project. This is the second donation to the project from the Town of Crested Butte. The Town donated $200,000 to fund the first phase of the project, which preserved 319 acres of the ranch.