Eagle County’s Hardscrabble Ranch open space plan moves toward final adoption in November | VailDaily.com

Eagle County’s Hardscrabble Ranch open space plan moves toward final adoption in November

This map of the Hardscrabble Ranch shows proposed trails in orange, along with trailhead locations and seasonal closure areas for the 1,540 acre property.

EAGLE — The public comment period for the Hardscrabble Ranch open space property is now closed, and Eagle County staff is working to refine the management plan for the 1,540-acre site in preparation for a Tuesday, Nov. 13, final adoption.

This week, the Eagle County commissioners received an update of the ranch management plan, the proposal that was unveiled to the public last month. The Eagle Valley Land Trust holds the conservation easement for the property, and plans at the site include wildlife habitat preservation, new recreation opportunities and continued ranching operations.

Since the property — formerly a part of the Adam's Rib Ranch — was purchased last year, the county has been working on an analysis of the land and formulating the framework for its future use. According to consultant Bill Mangle, there are four major priorities for the management plan: habitat conservation and restoration; agriculture management; public access and use; programming and partnerships.

According to Eagle County Open Space Manager Diane Mauriello, last month's public meeting regarding the draft management plan drew more than 60 residents and dozens of comments.

"Folks are asking us to just keep wildlife in mind as we make plans for the property. That's something we certainly plan to do," she said.

Additionally, residents weighed in on future agriculture uses at the ranch.

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"The property has a history of cattle grazing and hay production, but we are being asked to make sure other agricultural uses aren't prohibited," Mauriello added.

High interest

The property's future as open space has generated a great deal of public interest, Mauriello noted. But the county wants to be thoughtful as it opens up the land to public use.

"It's a much bigger undertaking than what we have done before," Mauriello said. That means substantial dollars will be associated with some of the work. Those costs are not yet defined.

"There is no question there are financial implications to the plan," Mauriello said. "We are working now to have numbers to assign to these projects."

As the budget emerges, she believes partnerships will be formed with local and state entities. For instance, Trout Unlimited has expressed interest in partnering on riparian improvements.

One of the first efforts, Mangle noted, will be to repair ditches through the property and continue a weed-management program. Mangle said the irrigated pastures around the ranch are generally in fair to good condition, with the non-irrigated land in poor to fair condition. Several of the upland areas are also rated as being in poor condition.

Along with managing the land, the county will be tasked with managing the people who use it.

"There are some good models for how to manage people on a property like this," Mangle said. "Education is huge."

"We know it's going to be a challenge," Mauriello said. "We will have our hands full making sure that the seasonal closures are respected."

While there are lots of program details yet to work out, Mauriello stressed the county staff isn't intimidated by the project.

"I don't want us to be overwhelmed by this. There is nothing but opportunity here," she said.

Mauriello added that the public has weighed in on one of the important details for the project — its ultimate name. Because the name Hardscrabble Ranch isn't historically attached to the property and it causes some confusion not only with nearby Hardscrabble Mountain but also with a private property in the Gypsum Creek Valley, the county is planning to rename the site.

After floating two name suggestions — Brush Creek Valley Ranch and Open Space or Brush Creek Open Space and Ranch — for community comment, the name Brush Creek Valley Ranch and Open Space has proven to be the more popular option.