Purchase of Hardscrabble Ranch would end 40-year fight over development | VailDaily.com

Purchase of Hardscrabble Ranch would end 40-year fight over development

The Hardscrabble Ranch open space deal ends a 40-year fight over development in the Brush Creek Valley south of Eagle.

Hardscrabble Ranch Open Space

1,540 acres: Ranch land to be preserved in the Brush Creek Valley south of Eagle

$15.5 million: Purchase price

To buy it

$9 million: From the county’s open space fund, which will drain it completely

$3.1 million: Great Outdoors Colorado grant

$600,000: Town of Eagle

$700,000: Eagle Ranch Wildlife Committee

$2.6 million: Money still needed, after factoring in loan interest

Source: Eagle County Open Space Department

EAGLE — When the Hardscrabble Ranch open space deal is done, it will end a 40-year fight regarding development in the Brush Creek Valley.

One of the last pieces fell into place late Thursday when the Great Outdoors Colorado's board of directors unanimously voted to grant $3.1 million toward the purchase of the ranch land. Eagle County's open space department is teaming with the Eagle Valley Land Trust to raise as much as $2.6 million to cover the remainder of the $15.5 million purchase price, said Toby Sprunk, Eagle County open space coordinator.

Brush Creek believers

GOCO has had its eye on the Brush Creek Valley for decades. In 1999, GOCO was instrumental in adding 1,782 acres along East and West Brush Creek to Sylvan Lake State Park. The 1,540-acre Hardscrabble Ranch deal would include trails connecting Hardscrabble, Eagle and the surrounding areas, and it would provide public access to Brush Creek for fishing and wildlife viewing, said Michele Frishman, open space program manager with Great Outdoors Colorado.

"Hardscrabble contains the last remaining piece of Brush Creek large enough for movement and habitat of big game," Frishman said.

Frishman said the creeks that flow through the ranch are candidates to reintroduce the cutthroat trout, Colorado's state fish and an endangered species. The ranch also contains 2.5 miles of Salt Creek and Brush Creek that flow into the Eagle River.

The $3.1 million GOCO grant is part of GOCO's $47 million Protect Initiative, which funds large-scale, once-in-a-lifetime conservation opportunities to protect some of these kinds of landscapes from Colorado's booming population, Frishman said.

GOCO receives proposals from across the state all of the time and turned down Eagle County during the last funding cycle. This time around, the Hardscrabble proposal beat out a project in the San Luis Valley in Thursday's GOCO board vote.

Eagle County's entire voter-approved open space fund is being scraped clean — $9 million — for the Hardscrabble purchase.

Anti-Adam's Rib

Open space is a far cry from the hundreds of homes sought when Hardscrabble Ranch was part of the proposed Adam's Rib Ranch project, a residential and ski resort idea that several Eagle residents fought zealously since it first came to light in 1971.

Nearby Frost Creek and its 140 homes is as far as developer Fred Kummer's vision advanced. Adjacent to Hardscrabble Ranch is the Haymeadow, which Eagle has zoned for 800 homes. The Hardscrabble Ranch open space would provide a buffer between those areas, said Craig Wescoatt, district wildlife manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

"I don't think this will happen again," Wescoatt said during a public hearing.

Hardscrabble Ranch has been a working ranch since the late 1800s, when the area was homesteaded.

Eagle County will lease the ranch back to area ranchers to generate income, Sprunk said.