Latest land preservation action puts 107 acres in conservation easement

Schutt property near Crested Butte fits into open space mission

[  By Mark Reaman  ]

A conservation easement (CE) worth $3 million on 107 acres of land just southeast of the town of Crested Butte has closed. Visible on the right of the highway as you enter town, the Schutt property is now prohibited from further development and thus will preserve significant wetland habitat, river corridor access and access to the Deli Trail while offering future opportunities for landscape scale restoration projects in the Slate River corridor near town.

The Crested Butte Land Trust (CBLT) will hold the easement while the town was the primary funder of the CE, providing $750,000 or 45% of the total cost. According to CBLT executive director Jake Jones, the Gunnison County Land Preservation Fund contributed $125,000, 1% for Open Space added $125,000, Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) came through with $127,000 and the CBLT contributed $535,000. The roughly other half of the value was donated by Suzanne and Bob Schutt who have owned the property for more than 30 years.

“CBLT has been working with Suzanne and Bob since 2020 on the conservation easement,” explained Jones. “The Schutt family retains ownership of the property and the future development rights have been extinguished through the conservation easement deed. The entire property is conserved, and the parcel contains high quality wetlands and wildlife habitat. Public access via the winter ski trail is permanently protected, the Deli Trail can be re-aligned/straightened where the corner fence is currently located. The view corridor is permanently protected and cattle grazing is allowed.”

Given that most of the property is considered high value wetlands, Jones said that it was important to protect the parcel since future development would not have been off the table.While the character of the property is dominated by the meanders of the Slate River and associated meadows and wetlands, there are 17 or more acres of uplands within the floodplain that were eligible for development prior to creating the conservation easement,” Jones said. “It is an ideal use of the town’s Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) funds. We are proud to help put these funds to work.”

The Schutts too are pleased the land they purchased in the 1980s will be preserved. “We are very happy to be able to be part of preserving the legacy of “the meadow” in perpetuity,” they commented in an email. “What a joy to know that people will continue to come into town and see that glorious green ranch property which is iconic in the Crested Butte landscape. Over the years, the meadow became even more treasured as homes were built all around us in the valley. The purchase of the Town Ranch contiguous with our property created an oasis and a wildlife refuge.”

Jones said in the big picture, the conservation of the Schutt property creates the southern bookend of the Land Trust’s three-decade effort along the floor of the Slate River Valley focused on wetland habitat, water attenuation, cattle grazing and seasonally appropriate recreation. “Beginning with the Land Trust’s first acquisition of 55 acres at the confluence of Coal Creek and the Slate River in the mid-90s, followed by numerous fee acquisitions and conservation easements from Gunsight Bridge northwest of town to the boundary of the Riverbend subdivision southeast of town, the Schutt CE will ensure that this portion of the high-quality wetlands and wildlife habitat found in the upper valley will be protected forever,” he said. “There is more land eligible for this type of conservation in the valley and the Land Trust is thrilled to work with Suzanne and Bob to protect this critical piece of the puzzle.”

Town stoked with the CE

The Crested Butte Recreation, Open Space and Trails supervisor Joey Carpenter said the action fit into the town’s conservation values including recreational access, wildlife habitat and scenic vistas. “It preserves recreational access by perpetuating the right to float on the lower Slate through the property, Nordic trail access in the winter and a small section of the Deli Trail in the summer,” he said. “In addition, it preserves a well utilized ungulate migration corridor as well as wetland habitat in the Slate River floodplain and permanently protects scenic vistas near the entrance to town that our community has valued for so long. CBLT worked hard for over two years to ensure the structure of the easement was fitting for the dedicated open space funding of the town derived from the RETT. We appreciate the CBLT’s continued partnership in building relationships with landowners and constructing complex conservation deals that ultimately make it to the finish line.”

After this transaction, the Crested Butte Open Space portion of the RETT sits at approximately $3 million. Carpenter said based on the 2023 budget, the estimated 2023 RETT balance for open space will end up at around $1.79 million. He explained that the biggest ticket item for 2023 is the payout of $2 million to the Mount Emmons Mining Company for disposal of mining claims in the areas west of town which is projected to be completed concurrently with the federal land exchange and conservation easement planned in the area.

As for the Schutt CE, he said, “The completion of the conservation easement contributes to a total of more than 550 directly connected acres in the lower Slate River wetlands that town has been involved in conserving through acquisition and funding from Town Ranch, Verzuh, McCormick Ranch and now the Schutt property. These landscape scale conservation efforts offer restoration opportunities into the future that could revitalize the lower Slate River wetlands well beyond our lifetimes.”

Jones too emphasized that the Crested Butte Land Trust’s mission is diverse and includes the protection of land for wildlife, ranching, recreation and iconic views. “In the case of the conservation easement on the Schutt property, each of these values are on display,” he said. “The property has been historically grazed and continues to be available for grazing. In regard to wildlife and recreation, the free to the public, winter-only ski trail across the property goes away in the spring when the land comes alive again and the animals return, year after year. The Schutt conservation easement not only fulfills the Land Trust’s mission, but also the missions of 1% for Open Space, the Gunnison County Land Preservation Fund, Great Outdoors Colorado lottery fund and the Town’s Real Estate Transfer Tax fund which was created by a voter mandate to protect land rich with conservation values.”

“The deer, elk, and other wildlife are protected,” concluded the Schutts. “Nordic skiing will continue, and families will enjoy biking surrounded by all that beauty. It is a blessing that the Crested Butte Land Trust is such a vibrant part of this community. “

The CE transaction officially closed on January 11.

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