Eagle County eyes 1,540-acre open space purchase | SummitDaily.com

Eagle County eyes 1,540-acre open space purchase

EAGLE — A 1,540-acre ranch could become the latest jewel in Eagle County’s open space crown.

The county’s open space advisory committee unanimously recommended spending $15.5 million for Hardscrabble Ranch, 1,540 acres along Brush Creek Road south of Eagle. The original asking price was $20 million.

Open space is a far cry from the hundreds of homes proposed when the land was part of the Adam’s Rib Ranch project, a residential and ski resort proposal that kicked around Eagle for decades.

“This property is the heart and soul of what this program does,” said Toby Sprunk, Eagle County’s open space manager. “When you consider what this land could have become under the Adam’s Rib proposal, this is a fitting outcome.”

The county’s open space staff started working on the deal last summer.

Who’s paying?

Great Outdoors Colorado, GOCO, wants to put in $3.1 million and is expected to make a final announcement by June.

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Up to $10.33 million would come from the county’s dedicated open space fund, which can only be used for the purchase, acquisition or protection of open space.

Depending on how the money falls, the county open space fund and its partners might be between $1.35 million and $2.7 million short.

The county might sell State Bridge and Two Bridges to the BLM for $1.35 million. It could also use 2018 revenues and seek other pots of money, Sprunk said.

The county’s voter-approved open space tax raises around $4 million per year.

“We’re looking for money under every possible rock,” Sprunk said.

Working ranch

Hardscrabble Ranch has been a working ranch since the late 1800s when the area was homesteaded. Eagle County will lease the property back to area ranchers to generate income.

It’s winter range for deer and elk and includes 2.5 miles of riparian habitat.

Recreation trails through the area would be closed in the winter, as they are in many of the county’s open space parcels.

“The open space advisory committee has been talking about a legacy project. One hundred years from now, being able to drive out the Brush Creek Valley and see this land still intact … I can’t imagine anything bigger than that,” Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry said.

The ranch is visible from virtually any high ridgeline in the western part of the county, Sprunk said.

The ranch is not currently profitable. In a good year it will break even, depending on the price of hay. In a bad year the ranch loses $30,000-$40,000, Sprunk said.

The suggestions to generate some cash includes boarding horses, raising grazing fees or selling hunting leases — something many hunters have requested for years, Sprunk said.

The nearby Frost Creek area has 140 homes on it with more to come, and Eagle has zoned the Haymeadow area for 800 homes. This ranch would provide a buffer for those areas, said Craig Wescoatt, district wildlife manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“I don’t think this will happen again,” Wescoatt said. “You have this pristine 2.5-mile area and I think it would be a travesty not to grab it while we can. “From protecting critical winter range for wildlife, to providing trail connections to (Bureau of Land Management) lands, to preservation of existing ranch operations, Hardscrabble Ranch is a gem.”

During Monday’s public hearing, committee members scored the ranch high on all six criteria it uses to evaluate open space proposals.

Committee members noted the unique opportunity to accomplish multiple benefits on a large scale with one purchase. The project also aligns with the town of Eagle’s community plan.

“This is a grand slam project,” said Eagle Mayor Anne McKibbin. “We are definitely in favor of this.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.