An auction for 320 acres in Edwards? |

An auction for 320 acres in Edwards?

Nicole Frey

EDWARDS – Lake Creek residents have spent months fighting the Palmerosa Ranch development, which threatened to bring ranchettes to their relatively quiet neck of the woods. While residents breathed a sigh of relief when Eagle County’s commissioners sent the developer back to the drawing board, their contentment may be short-lived as more of the neighborhood’s open spaces are under fire. Driving down Lake Creek Road in Edwards, the land along the road is dotted with homes. But beyond the houses, the land opens into wide expanses blanketed with snow. A good chunk of the land to the west of the road, all the way up to the ridge and beyond, belongs to public and is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Although the public can’t use the land because it’s surrounded by private property, it provides animals a refuge from heavier snows at higher elevations – land known as “winter range,” said Joe Doerr, a Forest Service wildlife biologist based in Eagle.

But the sanctuary is threatened. Two chunks of Forest Service land in Edwards, measuring more than 320 acres, are on the auction block and may be sold to the highest bidder. One parcel is just west of Lake Creek Road, while the other is east of Creamery Ranch. The sale was ordered from the top. President Bush’s proposed budget for the Forest Service may include the sale of 200,000 to 400,000 acres of Forest Service land around the country, which could raise about $800 million. It would be one of the largest land sales in Forest Service history. In Colorado, more than 21,000 acres in 11 national forests and grasslands could be on the chopping block.”I want to emphasize this is just a proposal,” said Kristi Ponozzo, spokeswomen for the surrounding White River National Forest. “The president’s budget often changes significantly before it’s approved by Congress.”Across the country, Forest Service land managers were asked to identify parcels of land that are hard to maintain and could be sold, which in Colorado, largely translated into chunks of public land surrounded by private property in remote areas, said Jon Freeman, a lands program manager with the White River National Forest. A Forest Service spokesman in Washington, D.C., Dan Jiron, said none of the parcels are in wilderness or other protected areas. But Liz Roberts, a wildlife biologist with the Holy Cross Ranger District, said winter range doesn’t qualify as protected land.

An environmental study will be done before land is sold, she said. Despite the incoming sales, the Washington, D.C. Forest Service office said it doesn’t expect a net loss of land because of the service’s land acquisition programs. The same office also said the sales will benefit the community by increasing local tax bases and promoting economic development. But the residents in Lake Creek would just as soon not see any more development in their neighborhood. “I think it’s terrible,” said Susan Miller, who owns property in Lake Creek. “Once land leaves the public hand, it never goes back.”Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or Vail, Colorado

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