Land exchange approval near Green Mountain Reservoir met with applause from government officials, concern from advocacy groups
Sky Hi News
The Bureau of Land Management has approved the Blue Valley Land Exchange, which encompasses areas north of Green Mountain Reservoir near Heeney. The decision was met with applause and scrutiny due to its changes to land use near the Blue River, a popular recreation area.
The exchange will increase public access to fishing, hunting and other recreation areas in Grand and Summit counties, the bureau says, but opponents of the plans say it will set a dangerous precedent for future land exchanges and will restrict permissible recreation.
The Summit Board of County Commissioners and the Grand County Board of Commissioners released a statement applauding the bureau’s decision Tuesday. Summit commissioners say the county will receive $600,000 for new open space acquisitions while protecting county-owned natural lands. The Grand County statement said the commissioners expect the exchange will allow more than 1,000 acres to be opened to the public for recreation activities and provide better access to the Blue River and Green Mountain.
Both statements highlight the creation of the Confluence Recreation Area. Reports say the plans will add more than 2 miles of walking trails, 2 miles of new contiguous fishing access on the Blue River, takeouts and rest stops for river floaters, a boat ramp, river habitat enhancements for a mile-long fishery, a picnic area, two parking areas, wheelchair-accessible fishing platforms and more.
Floaters will be provided a permanent, seasonal takeout and rest stop near the Spring Creek River Bridge along with a rest stop 3 miles downstream from that bridge, too, according to a Summit commissioners’ release.
Outside of the recreation area, upstream anglers will reportedly gain walk-in access to over 1.5 miles of the Blue River in Green Mountain Canyon. It also states Blue Valley Ranch will pay for the development of the new features and river restoration.
Both of Colorado’s U.S. senators also came out in support of the exchange on social media.
“Making public lands accessible to the public is a top priority, and this is great news for outdoor rec, conservation, and the anglers, rafters and kayakers who enjoy the Blue River,” wrote Sen. John Hickenlooper in a tweet.
Sen. Michael Bennet also took to Twitter to applaud the move and the work by the bureau and Grand and Summit counties’ officials who helped make it possible, calling it “great news for CO anglers, rafters, and all advocates of the lower Blue River.”
Colorado Wild Public Lands, an organization that monitors land exchanges, expressed concerns about the exchange in 2021. On Jan. 10, the organization put out a news release announcing that the bureau had just released documents requested through the Freedom of Information Act over a year earlier, in July 2021.
The organization called the released document, the Draft Binding Land Exchange Agreement, vital to the public’s understanding of the exchange in its news release. Graham Ward, the executive director for Colorado Wild Public Lands, wrote in a statement to Sky-Hi News that the draft agreement shows the exchange “is riddled with problems.”
“Insufficient protections to preserve important resources, overly restrictive permissible uses on new recreational opportunities, and inadequate guarantees that those opportunities will even exist, among other details that will set dangerous precedent for future exchanges,” Ward wrote.
The draft agreement the bureau released in January was current in July 2021, and Ward wrote that the fully-updated version of the agreement was not released until Jan. 12, five days before the federal agency announced its decision. Colorado Wild Public Lands takes issue with the amount of time the bureau took to release the first unredacted document and the short period of time between the second document’s release and the plan’s approval.
Ward added that his organization is preparing a protest to the decision because it believes the public will lose valuable resources and its ability to have its voice heard on land management decisions as a result of the exchange. The organization welcomes input at email@example.com.
A news release from Blue Valley Ranch on Tuesday celebrated the decision, stating the deal increases acreage of public open spaces, puts millions of dollars towards recreation and ecological improvements and protects Green Mountain and San Toy Mountain from future development.
The release also includes quotes supporting the BLM’s decision from representatives of the Friends of the Lower Blue River, Colorado Wildlife Federation, Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Blue Valley Sportsmen Club and others.
The bureau announcement stated land ownership and public access will not change until the bureau and Galloway Inc., Owner of Blue Valley Ranch, formally close on the exchange. It also mentions that the bureau’s Notice of Decision began a 45-day protest period. Protests must be submitted by March 2, to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to BLM KFO, Land Exchange Protest, PO Box 68, Kremmling, CO 80459.
Editor’s note: This story is from SkyHiNews.com. Summit Daily News editor Andrew Maciejewski contributed to this report.
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