Bair Ranch reignites canyon conflict
Two men who played prominent roles in planning the Interstate 70 project in Glenwood Canyon differ sharply over the idea of the plan to spend $5 million preserving Bair Ranch.Floyd Diemoz, a Glenwood Springs resident who served as a citizen advisor to the interstate project, praised the deal, saying it achieves a goal a canyon citizens committee set almost three decades ago to protect the ranch from development. Diemoz, in a recent letter the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, calls the conservation effort “the final cornerstone” in the greater effort of protecting Glenwood Canyon.But Dick Prosence, who was regional director of the Colorado Department of Transportation during the I-70 project planning, believes the plan is a waste of $5 million. He said the I-70 planning already has achieved the ranch’s protection by deliberately restricting access to it.”The poor access limits the possibility of that ever being developed,” he said.Eagle County commissioners recently voted 2-1 to contribute $2 million of county open space money toward a $5.1 million deal to protect the 4,800-acre ranch. The decision all but guarantees the completion of the deal, as most of the remaining funding already has been raised.For Diemoz, preserving the ranch was the last uncompleted goal related to the canyon project.Battle of Glenwood Canyon
When I-70 was proposed to go through the canyon, citizens demanded that it be done in an environmentally friendly fashion. One of the goals of a citizens advisory committee was that “the purchase, in fee or of development rights, should be pursued of all privately owned lands within the canyon. The Bair Ranch, in particular, should be secured to protect against inappropriate future development.”Diemoz said last week that private properties were bought at Grizzly Creek and Hanging Lake in the canyon. But with all of the other costs associated with the I-70 project, funding wasn’t available to buy Bair Ranch.”I think we just finally came to the feeling that, geez, it looks like we’re not going to accomplish it,” he said.Still, he added, he and other canyon advocates never gave up hope the ranch eventually might be preserved. “It was always in the back of our mind that someday that was going to happen, and finally that day happened,” he said.”For Glenwood Springs it’s really important because Glenwood truly fought the battle of Glenwood Canyon,” Diemoz added. Prosence, who is now retired and splits time between Meeker and Arizona, shared Diemoz’s fear decades ago that Bair Ranch might be developed.He said state transportation officials discussed the possibility of a Holiday Inn or something similar being built at Bair Ranch, but also recognized the I-70 interchange there wouldn’t be able to handle the traffic impacts.The department of transportation kept that in mind during negotiations with Bair Ranch over purchase of property on the north side of the Colorado River where the interchange now exists, Prosence said. The agency agreed to replace an old suspension bridge over the river for the Bair family, but purposely built only a one-way bridge across a narrow right of way, so it would be hard to widen the bridge later. “The effort was deliberately made to stymie good access to the ranch so it couldn’t be developed,” Prosence said.Prosence said he is glad the ranch is being preserved, but also believes the Bairs are being paid too much not to develop the ranch when little development is possible. He said he’d also like to see more public access to the ranch than what will be achieved through the Bureau of Land Management’s purchase of 512 acres along the Colorado River, which is part of the $5.1 million deal.
“If they’re going to pay that amount of money they ought to buy it and make a wildlife preserve out of it,” he said.Prosence said he worked with the Nature Conservancy during the I-70 planning to try to buy the ranch from the Bairs. But he was negotiating based on an appraisal of around $1 million, and the family was asking $5 million or $6 million.Any effort to develop Bair Ranch now would require more of a right of way from the department of transportation for a larger bridge, Prosence said. Also, developers would have to obtain permission for an improved crossing of the railroad. Currently, only small vehicles can travel under a railroad bridge, Prosence said, and the railroad has denied a request for a crossing at the level of the tracks due to limited sight distance.Development a risk?Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, who voted to have the county contribute $25,000 to Bair Ranch, said the land could be accessed easily enough from Gypsum, via the road to Cottonwood Pass. And if ranch co-owner Craig Bair hadn’t agreed to preserve the ranch, he could have developed it into 35-acre lots without need for county review.”He could have done that without any problem and sold every one of them,” Martin said.Bair, meanwhile, said developers could afford to put a bridge over the railroad tracks.”All it takes is money,” he said. “Maybe I couldn’t do it, but I guarantee I could sell to someone that could.”
He also takes issue with Prosence and others who wanted the ranch opened to the public, contending that would lead to littering and otherwise spoiling the property.”This place wouldn’t be anything like it if you let the public come in,” he said.Bair said he considers it “a big victory” that he is getting paid not to develop his land, after what he considers attempts by Prosence and other highway officials to steal the ranch for nothing.”I am bitter, and when it comes to Dick Prosence’s name, I’m very bitter,” Bair said. He also is angry at critics who’ve complained Bair’s dude ranch operation is being protected along with the land. Dude ranches, and similar operations, are what Bair Ranch has to do to survive, Bair added. “Every rancher around here is trying to diversify somehow,” he said.At times, Bair said, he has been tempted to sell the ranch, just to show people how easily the land could be developed. “I just kind of told people if you don’t want to see development, get behind this,.” Bair said.