Land swap idea stirs community
EAGLE COUNTY — U.S. Forest Ranger Dave Neely wasn’t surprised to receive an influx of feedback after a U.S. Forest Service land swap idea was floated in Minturn.
The idea, proposed at the Minturn Town Council’s regular meeting June 3, would see a privately owned parcel of land near Red Cliff, known as Battle Mountain, swapped for a national forest land parcel just south of Interstate 70 on the way to Minturn, known as Meadow Mountain. The plan, from there, would be to build homes on Meadow Mountain rather than Battle Mountain.
“As soon as it went, we knew people in the valley were going to have ideas and opinions about it,” Neely said. “Meadow Mountain is a special place for a lot of people, we know that. I think anybody who’s looking at the future of these communities is going to want to consider options that might provide for the best possible balance between development and conservation, so it doesn’t surprise me that proposals like this come through. It doesn’t surprise me that there’s a reaction in the community when they go public.”
At this time, though, “We don’t have a position on it,” Neely said. “As we don’t have a proposal in front of us.”
NOT YET TO STEP 1 OF 64
Neely has seen other local land swap ideas come to life in his days as the White River National Forest’s district ranger. A memorable transaction is the recent swap known as the Eagle Valley Land Exchange, where the U.S. Forest Service gained 640 acres of land north of Edwards for a variety of parcels near Avon and Edwards, most notably the area known as the West Avon Preserve, where a variety of new hiking and biking trails have been recently constructed.
Neely said that exchange didn’t receive the large amount of feedback he’s already seen via email and in-person contact. As the news broke about the land swap idea, the GoPro Mountain Games were underway in Vail, and the U.S. Forest Service had a booth up for that big weekend in Vail.
“Our staff was hearing from folks at that event,” Neely said.
In the case of the Eagle Valley Land Exchange, “It was not overly challenging to articulate the public good that was gained,” Neely said.
For the Meadow Mountain/Battle Mountain land swap, that recognition of public good would be one of the early steps that would need to take place before the idea could advance. The first step would be the actual filing of a proposal for said land swap.
“If we were to receive such a proposal, we would have to make a choice, at our discretion, whether or not we thought it would be a good thing to enter into, and subsequently we would have to determine if it was in the public interest, and there’s about 64 more steps that would need to take place, and that includes public involvement,” Neely said.
Upon the initial presentation of the idea to Minturn, the Battle Mountain Development Co. said it would not be possible without their support. Reaction from the town council ranged from concern to surprise, with some skepticism along the way.
Council member Jason “Ozzy” Osborne says he doesn’t trust that a big part of the deal would be able to be upheld by the U.S. Forest Service — an assurance that Battle Mountain, should it become Forest Service land, would be open to all recreation, including motorized use.
“We realize snowmobiling is important,” said Tim McGuire with Battle Mountain Development Co. “I think if a trade were to happen, we could deed restrict the Battle (Mountain) parcel so that it could never be purchased. We’re hopeful we could work with the Forest Service to find a solution for that.”
Neely said properties with deed restrictions aren’t something the U.S. Forest Service is usually interested in trading for.
“We tend to not bring land into the federal estate that has restrictions on it, and we would also not want to be the entity that held some kind of restriction on land that was leaving the federal estate,” he said. “That’s a technicality that would have to be sorted out.”
Local trail user Lee Rimel saw the Eagle County Land Exchange through step for step. He says the mix of snowmobile use and non-motorized recreation in the winter on Meadow Mountain makes it an especially unique piece of land in Eagle County.
“It’s truly everyone’s backyard, and it’s a large enough area that we don’t realize each other is out there,” Rimel said.
Rimel also said he doesn’t believe the Battle Mountain development will ever occur.
“Battle Mountain is out of the main corridor of the Eagle River Valley,” he said. “It’s not a logical or sane place to develop or build homes. And I think the current owner knows that.”
McGuire said if the Meadow Mountain swap isn’t going to happen, his company is going to refocus on developing Battle Mountain. The land swap proposal is expected to be submitted to the U.S. Forest Service in the next few weeks.