Derek Franz

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June 20, 2012
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Open Space river project lands big grant

Eagle County Open Space is getting a $4.5 million grant from Great Outdoors Colorado.

Most of the award - $3.96 million - will fund a conservation easement on the 1,017-acre Colorado River Ranch and a purchase of the 288-acre Nottingham property.

"This will preserve 1,305 acres with four miles of Colorado River frontage and 1,245 acres of wildlife habitat, effectively connecting the Flat Tops Wilderness to the Bull Gulch Study Area," said Eagle County Open Space Director Toby Sprunk, who now has quite a feather in his cap after his first year on the job.

The remaining $600,000 of grant money was awarded jointly to Pitkin and Eagle counties for purchase of the Saltonstall parcel near Basalt.

Gov. John Hickenlooper announced the eight recipients of the GOCO grants on Tuesday. There were originally 67 applicants, which were pared down to 17 and then the final eight.

"To be one of the eight winners out of 67 tells you the significance of this project," Sprunk said. "It's a pretty exciting time, I'm thrilled."

The Colorado River Ranch will remain in private ownership and continue operating as a working ranch, producing organic cattle and hay. As part of the deal, Eagle County will be allowed to provide irrevocable and permanent public access to the Colorado River and to the historic Colorado River Ranch schoolhouse, as well as on the boundary to the Bull Gulch Wilderness Study Area.

Commissioner Jon Stavney said the easement on the Colorado River Ranch provides a centerpiece for the county's larger river access plan. While access across the entire ranch will not be open to the public, the county will add improvements at the southern portion of the property with the intent of having it managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

If the project closes as planned, Eagle County will likely complete boat launch improvements in 2013, which Stavney said will provide a badly needed public river access point between Burns and Cottonwood.

"We certainly appreciate the landowner's patience during this process," Stavney said.

The Nottingham property includes 228 acres and two miles of river frontage. It is anticipated the property will be owned by the county and managed by the BLM. Uses being contemplated at the site include primitive camping, fishing and hiking to complement other options available along the Colorado River.

"These are pretty much the final key pieces of the puzzle," Sprunk said. "We're basically done buying property on the Colorado River, though there might be another small one at Derby Junction but that could be years away from happening, if at all. My next focus will be open space in municipal areas."

The Saltonstall property is 145 acres that would provide better access to the "Crown." The Crown is 9,300 acres of BLM land that spans parts of Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties, and includes a network of trails. It is currently most commonly accessed from Prince Creek Road off State Route 133 outside Carbondale. With the Saltonstall property, Basalt residents could bicycle to the Crown from town.

The land is under contract for $5 million and the deal is set to close Oct. 1. Eagle County, Pitkin County, Basalt and the Mid-Valley Trails Committee are all partners in the deal. Eagle County is pledging $2 million and Pitkin County slightly less than $2 million. Basalt is good for $500,000 and MVTC is chipping in $50,000. The original GOCO grant application requested $500,000.

The other projects to win GOCO grants were:

• Poudre River Trail Corridor Improvement Project - $5 million

• Denver South Platte River Vision Implementation Project - $4.6 million

• Plains to Peaks Trail in Clear Creek Canyon - $4.6 million

• Triple Creek Greenway Corridor Project in Aurora - $3.4 million

• Fountain Creek Watershed Trails and Recreation Projects between Colorado Springs and Pueblo - $2.5 million

• Colorado Riverfront Trail Project in Fruita - $2.9 million

• Yampa River Legacy Project in Steamboat Springs - $2.4 million

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The VailDaily Updated Jun 20, 2012 12:59PM Published Jun 20, 2012 12:57PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.