Working it out—Part II: Public use on private property

Pursuing solutions for historic public/private land use interfaces 

By Katherine Nettles

Last week we looked at two areas, the Middle Upper Loop trail and the new GB Trail, both of which involved the interface of private and public land ownership and uses. This week, we focus on the changes to Moonridge Ranch and how the new owners want to protect Nordic trails for future users. Land use agreements like this have taken work and understanding among parties, but when successful, these agreements can protect the interests of all who use our vast acres of public and private lands in Gunnison County.

Sunflower Ranch: Long-time component of Nordic Center trails changes hands, but maintains public access

John Kiltz of Austin, Texas, purchased the Moon Ridge Ranch (newly dubbed Sunflower Ranch) on March 10 in partnership with his sons. Kiltz has expressed his intention to keep Nordic Center access on the property. His real estate agent, Diane Aronovick, told the Crested Butte News, “I know there has been some fear within the community about development and potentially losing access for recreation. That isn’t going to happen.”

Kiltz says he cares about public access and adding to, rather than limiting, his impact on the community.

“We started coming to Crested Butte because of Adaptive Sports. We had a daughter named Gracie who was a very active participant in both summer and winter sports,” Kiltz says of his connection to the area. Gracie was born with Down syndrome and also suffered from childhood leukemia, which required extensive chemotherapy and subsequent neurological damage.

“I think the point of why we are in Crested Butte is because of our daughter, Gracie, and what the community was able to do to make her feel comfortable being a part of Adaptive and all the activities each year. The community was the glue that allowed us to vacation together as a family and participate together in all the things we are able to enjoy,” Kiltz says.

Gracie passed away unexpectedly about 18 months ago, and Kiltz has renamed the ranch in her memory.

“That is a tribute to our daughter,” he says. “Sunflowers were her favorite flower. And we don’t know how or if we can make sunflowers grow up here at altitude, but we are sure going to try,” he laughs.

Christie Hicks, Crested Butte Nordic executive director, reached out to Kiltz once she learned he was under contract for the property, and Kiltz quickly met with her and the Nordic Center’s board of directors.

“I wanted to understand more about what they did and how they did it,” he says.

The county holds a conservation covenant of more than 90 acres on the property. The parcel also borders Crested Butte Land Trust, U.S. Forest Service land and McCormick Ranch property. Hicks explains that the Nordic Center grooms within that area. “The Maze, Old Ditch Trail and Gulch Connector are all trails contained within this parcel. This property provides many of the connectors and loops that folks think of when they think of our Eastside trails,” she says.

Kiltz and Crested Butte Nordic have drafted a long-term agreement to maintain user access, and Kiltz made it clear that he wants to be inclusive of many users, including fat bikes and dogs. Any trail-use changes to that effect will require additional formalities, and Kiltz defers to the Nordic Center’s ultimate discretion on its trail use guidelines.

“We will announce any changes once there’s snow on the ground again and/or we have all agreements in place. We always have to work with adjacent landowners and land use agencies before making changes to our trail system,” says Hicks. She feels all agreements in place so far are very positive, as does Kiltz.

“I hike all over the valley and all over Colorado, and every time I do it I am going across somebody else’s property … The least I can do is offer the same to others,” he says.

Kiltz says he has been disheartened by some of the tension between locals and vacation homeowners in recent months and wants to overcome any stereotypes.

“I’m going to do everything I can to be the best non-resident, second homeowner I can be. Whether it’s letting people use my land, contributing to the organizations that do so much for this place, working as a volunteer with them … I’m going to go out of my way to be a person in the community. That is the plan.”

Furthermore, Crested Butte Nordic has made a new fan out of him. “I’d never Nordic skied before, and was up there when the ski area closed early,” Kiltz recalls. A friend offered to take him out to try skinny skis, and he got to sample the tracks on his new property.

“I feel super privileged to own a piece of property like this. I’ve never had a chance to own something so amazing. The absorption of all the beauty is hard to describe … Crested Butte is an amazing place for all of our sons and their families, and all of our grandkids,” Kiltz says. “I just look forward to many, many years like this with my family and many others in Crested Butte.”

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