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Mining claims gaining in value

ALLEN BESTspecial to the daily

MONTEZUMA – Small parcels of 10 to 20 acres litter Colorado’s mineral belt from Georgetown to Durango in Summit County, a legacy of the mining boom of the 19th century. Even in the 1980s, those old properties, first claimed from the general domain because of their mineral potential, could be had for a few thousand dollars.Old mining claims down in the valleys, such as around Breckenridge, were generally worth much more and had long before been converted to other uses. But on the hillsides near old mining precincts of Summit County such as the Swan River or Sts. John, in the Fulford region south of Eagle or near Lenado in Pitkin County, the land was based on lingering hopes of mineral potential or their mere novelty.In the last 15 years, such properties are becoming substantially more valuable. In part, this value is derived from the fact that these properties, many of them inholdings within the national forests, can be accumulated and then traded to the U.S. Forest Service for land near towns or ski areas. But the parcels are also being eyed for building sites.In some cases, potential builders are driven to look at the old mining claims because land in the valley bottoms is becoming so much more expensive.In other cases, the rising value is driven simply because of the remoteness of the parcels, says Reid Haughey, president of the Wilderness Land Trust.He cites the example of a parcel south of Eagle, in the area of the defunct plans for a ski area called Adam’s Rib. Plans for the ski area were dropped in 1997, but nonetheless, the value of the parcel has doubled since then. “What has proven to be the case is that these properties are particularly appealing to a certain buyer, who sees the remoteness as an advance,” Haughey said. “There are enough buyers like that, and a limited number of such sites, that the value goes up.”In Pitkin County, where planning regulations discourage building in remote locations, the demand is so high-spirited that buyers have been looking with steadily greater interest. That has practical implications for Darryl Grob, fire chief of the Aspen Fire Protection District. He agrees that for some buyers, the relatively lower cost of remote lots is a matter of economics, while others specifically want to be out in the wood, far from town. But if they’re far from town, that can create problems for his staff of 44 volunteers (and 4 paid employees).”We get winters here that can be quit severe, where access to conventional sites is difficult enough without having to contend with a long and winding road.”Gary Severson, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, says that while both Summit and Pitkin counties have programs to facilitate transfer of development rights from the more remote, backcountry locations, those regulations do not, and under Colorado law cannot, absolutely eliminate the potential for building. Around Montezuma, a one-time silver-mining town located at an elevation of 10,400 feet several miles from the Keystone Resort, mining properties are located left and right. The most immediate concern is water quality of cabins that are built on many of the claims. “We are on septic up here, and all of those mining claims are close to bedrock. It’s questionable how may of those systems could go in up here without water quality issues,” says Steve Hornback, the mayor of the tiny town. He is hoping that Summit County’s transferable development rights program, although still in its infancy, will result in most people deciding to build downstream in the Keystone area instead of upstream around Montezuma.


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