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December 14, 2012
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Deal protects Colorado River Ranch

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - In real estate, a deal isn't done until both parties are through at the closing table. That means there's always some uncertainty in every contract.

The certainty of closing came this week to two big parcels of open space along the Colorado River north of Dotsero. One - a 228-acre parcel owned by the Nottingham family - was purchased outright. The other parcel, the 1,017-acre Colorado River Ranch was protected via a contract - called a "conservation easement," that prohibits the land owners from any future development on the land.

Those contracts come at a price - land owners essentially sell the rights to any future development.

In the case of the Colorado River Ranch, the cost of the deal was about $6 million. The cost of the deals for both parcels was shared, roughly equally, by Eagle County's open space fund and Great Outdoors Colorado, which uses money from the sale of lottery tickets to help fund open space and parks projects.

The state agency is usually flooded with requests - there are far more worthy projects than money available to do them - so getting nearly $4 million in that funding is hard.

Eagle County Commissioner Jon Stavney said the county's other purchases of property and contracts along the river put the Colorado River project into sharp focus in Denver. So did the idea of preserving water rights in the Colorado River.

Under the deal for the Colorado River Ranch, the water rights now owned by the ranch can never be sold or transferred. The same is true for the smaller parcel.

While the Colorado River Ranch will remain in the hands of its current owners - and will remain a working cattle ranch raising organic beef - both pieces of property have preservation contracts attached. Those contracts will be managed and enforced by Colorado Open Lands, a Denver area-based land trust.

Dieter Erdmann of Colorado Open Lands said his group was chosen by the Colorado River Ranch's owner. Landowners can pick the organization that administers the contracts.

"We're extremely pleased to be involved in the acquisition and protection of these properties," Erdmann said. "The recreation benefits there are indisputable."

And, while virtually all of the ranch will remain private property, with no public access, about a mile of river frontage will be available to the public on the former Nottingham parcel, now called the Red Dirt Creek Open Space.

Eagle County Open Space Director Toby Sprunk said the south end of the ranch will have a boat launch, with parking. The Red Dirt Creek parcel will, too, as well as the prospect of some "primitive" campsites, primarily for those on multi-day float trips down the Colorado.

"We'll probably get to work on both those projects in the spring," Sprunk said, adding that he expects the boat launches to be ready by the summer of next year.

Given the uncertainty of any real estate deal, Sprunk said he was breathing a lot easier when the final piece of the puzzle was completed Friday.

And, given the complexity of the deal, Stavney said he's happy to have Sprunk on the county payroll.

"He's really earned his pay with this one," Stavney said.

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Dec 14, 2012 09:39PM Published Dec 14, 2012 09:38PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.