Ranch buy could add Colorado River access | VailDaily.com

Ranch buy could add Colorado River access

Special to the Vail DailyThe Berger proposal includes 126 acres of Colorado River frontage. The land borders U.S. Bureau of Land Management property.

EAGLE – Eagle County has been asked to buy another piece of open space, this time near Dotsero.

After hearing last week from the owners of the Sleepy Hollow Ranch up Brush Creek, the Eagle County Commissioners this week heard a request from Karl Berger, who wants the county to use money from its open space fund to buy his Coyote River Ranch at Dotsero.

The 126-acre property is just north of Interstate 70 up the Colorado River Road. The property has slightly more than a mile of river frontage, almost all the way to the Coffeepot Road and the Colorado River’s confluence with Deep Creek.

The Eagle County Open Space Advisory Committee is supporting the request, and the Eagle Valley Land Trust is backing the deal.

In a report to the commissioners Tuesday, county planner Cliff Simonton went through the criteria the open space committee uses to evaluate proposals. The Dotsero property received ratings of “medium” to “high” on most of those criteria, from scenic value to wildlife habitat to public access.

That access could be something of a sticking point, though. While buying the property would put a lot of riverfront property into public hands, it would be relatively hard to get to from the Colorado River Road. Any public facilities would also probably have to be built on or near environmentally sensitive wetlands. And, while much of the property in the proposed sale is east of the river, there won’t be any access to the eastern riverbank except by rafters.

And rafters could be the people most likely to benefit from the purchase.

Land trust director Kara Heide said she’s been talking to representatives of local rafting and tubing companies, all of whom say they’d like to have another public put-in or take-out area for boats.

Floating through private property is becoming a controversial issue across the state, Heide said. A “right to float” bill died in the Colorado Legislature this year, and both opponents and supporters have talked this year about taking competing ballot issues into the November elections.

“Opportunities to have people be able to pull off the river are going to become very special,” Heide said. “We want to protect those opportunities.”

The commissioners sounded interested in the proposal, but said they need answers to several questions.

One of the biggest questions is the costs of maintaining open space owned by the county, especially as more property is being put into public hands instead of “conservation easements,” in which private property owners are essentially paid to not develop their property.

“This isn’t new, but it’s growing,” Commissioner Sara Fisher said, adding that the publicly-owned Eagle River Preserve in Edwards still doesn’t have money dedicated to it’s upkeep.

The commissioners also asked about bringing in other funding partners to the deal. While there’s currently about $15 million in the county’s dedicated open space fund – a special property tax approved by voters in 2002 – that money doesn’t go very far without other agencies or nonprofit groups participating in deals.

Heide said that at the moment Berger is the only funding partner – because the land was most recently appraised at about $2.3 million, he’s technically contributing about $500,000 to the deal. But the commissioners said they’d like to see Great Outdoors Colorado or private fund-raising contribute a significant amount of money to the deal.

Commissioner Jon Stavney said he’d like to see other partners bring 30 percent to 40 percent of the purchase price to the deal, if it’s finally approved.

Even with a handful of questions, the commissioners said they’d like to learn more. They’ll probably visit the ranch next week.

“I would like to see this property preserved,” Berger said. “That was a town site out there. There was a saloon, a boarding house, a stage stop. It’s such a historical gold mine.”

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