Summit County continues open-space buys |

Summit County continues open-space buys

summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado

Last November’s approval of Measure 1A means the Summit County open-space program can continue buying parcels of undeveloped land for natural-resource and recreational values, with $1.8 million for acquisitions in the 2009 budget.

“We still have another year of the same budget we’ve had the last 10 years, and we’re still planning to buy,” said open space and trails director Brian Lorch, outlining a handful of recent purchases, including a valuable 10-acre chunk of wetlands in the Upper Blue near Hoosier Pass.

The department’s overall annual budget is $2.85 million, with about 28 percent of that going for maintenance and management of existing open-space properties.

“We’re on what you could call a fixed budget through 2019,” Lorch said, referring to the open-space tax measure passed by voters last year. “But we’re faced with a declining ability to buy land based on land values.”

Even though the local real-estate market has been stagnant in terms of sales, prices haven’t dropped, and in some cases, the open-space department is paying significantly more for valued backcountry inholdings.

Some of those mining claims surrounded by national-forest land used to sell for about $1,000 per acre, but recent purchases have cost three times as much, Lorch said.

A recent purchase in the Upper Blue is a case in point. To protect view corridors, the open-space department bought two five-acre mining claims above Summit Estates, near the golf course along Tiger Road for $120,000, or $12,000 per acre.

Development on those claims would have been visible for miles around, even as far away as from Interstate 70, Lorch said.

In another deal, the open-space program acquired the last of seven backcountry inholdings in the Snake River backcountry, near Montezuma. The claims totaled 39 acres and were bought from seven different owners at an average price of $2,200 per acre. The parcels will probably be traded to the Forest Service in the future, Lorch said

Lorch said the purchase of those parcels are a good example of why the program focuses on tracts of private land surrounded by national forest.

Small inholdings within the national forest present a serious threat to recreation, wildlife habitat and scenic vistas in Summit County.

“Most locals assume they’re on public lands while using trails and climbing peaks,” Lorch said.

But in recent years, a growing number of owners of backcountry claims have chosen to prohibit trespassing, closing trails that have been used for decades, he explained.

In some cases, like with the parcels above Summit Estates, owners plow or bulldoze new roads that affect views and fragment wildlife habitat, Lorch said.

The 10-acre Monte Christo open-space purchase in the Upper Blue helps protect a complex of high-elevation wetlands that protects water quality, provides important habitat and helps moderate spring run-off to the Blue River.

It also protects a key view corridor from Colorado 9 to the Quandary Peak area, coming around the big switchback turn.

“That’s one of those spots in Summit County,” Lorch said, “that really awes you.”

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