Opinion | Susan Knopf: Brouhaha at Bill’s Ranch
For the Record
There’s a brouhaha at Bill’s Ranch. The scuttlebutt is about 6 acres adjacent to Summit County Community and Senior Center in Frisco.
The parcel had long been desired for workforce housing, but in a 1992 political deal now gone bad, the county decided to give in to local pressure and created a conservation easement. Big mistake. Now the county is eating crow.
First of all, it was never purchased with open land dollars. According to a county document, it was part of a 113.5-acre land swap with U.S. Forest Service to create a county government campus.
The county boasts a robust open space program, reportedly conserving more than 17,000 acres. The Summit Daily News’ Taylor Sienkiewicz reported on the most recent open space acquisition of 136 acres.
Bill’s Ranch residents and Colorado Open Lands would have you believe you can never change your mind. The conservation easement was given in perpetuity. It used to be a pretty little wood. Now it’s mostly dirt. I drive past it frequently. Bill’s Ranch folks lovingly call it Fiester Preserve. The pine beetles got the trees, and they are working to restore it. I think they also want to preserve public memory.
The Fiesters took up Bill Thomas’ offer to move to Frisco. Bill had a dairy, but no customers for his milk and butter. The mining industry was done, and people moved away. Frisco was diminished to just a handful of hardy souls. Bill advertised, offering free land and an opportunity to build your own cabin. Later, folks bought the land for $100 on installments and built their own cabins. Nowadays, about half are second-home owners, and there are some short-term rentals.
One longtime resident, according to Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, was Judy Anderson. She has since moved to the Front Range. According to Stiegelmeier, Judy said swapping Fiester Parcel for a piece of land with more conservation and recreational value is a great idea. Judy probably knew something current locals don’t want to concede: everything changes.
Residents and conservation advocates are wringing their hands saying extinguishment of the conservation easement sets a terrible precedent. I would say this is an opportunity to set a great precedent. First before consideration of extinguishment, Colorado Open Lands should insist that a new parcel be offered. The proposed parcel should be the same or greater size. It should offer equal or greater conservation and recreation value.
For the record, this parcel is uniquely well located next to the senior center and our hospital and health care complex. It is perfectly situated to become senior housing. Kudos to the county for planning to shelter workers at a facility on the same campus.
What seems to be missing is the county showing locals a little more love and consideration. It would be great to see an artistic rendering of what the green corridor/landscape buffer around the senior housing would look like. I envision something well-maintained by the county that would enhance the beauty, value and recreational utility of the area. One reader wrote the Summit Daily that wildflowers should be retained on the southern part of the parcel. It would be ideal if seeds and specimens were collected this year to assure survival of any unique species.
I see strong win-win opportunities for all our stakeholders. That can only happen if Bill’s Ranch residents are seen as stakeholders, voters, whose opinions matter. County Manager Scott Vargo told me, “We have discussed the exchange or transfer of a conservation parcel with Colorado Open Lands and shared that information with Ben and Karen Little and Bill’s Ranch. … We have discussed a landscape buffer.” Vargo says it remains the county’s intent to have the Bill’s Ranch community at the table.
It might be a good idea to send them a formal invitation, so they feel included. The county can’t discuss its extinguishment legal case, but it can hold a town hall to discuss the proposed conservation swap and senior housing. Such a move would go a long way to healing our community.
Susan Knopf’s column “For The Record” publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf has worn many hats in her career, including working as an award-winning journalist and certified ski instructor. She moved to Silverthorne in 2013 after vacationing in Summit County since the 1970s. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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