Vail Valley open space lovers applaud $16 million ranch purchase

Open space advocates took a huge step Tuesday when the Eagle County Commissioners voted to pledge $9 milllion of voter-approved open space funds to purchase the 1,540-acre Hardscrabble Ranch south of Eagle. The ranch would become part of Eagle County's open space program.
Mirr Ranch Group | Special to the Daily

By the numbers

The Eagle County Commissioners committed $9 million of voter-approved open space money toward the $16 million purchase of the 1,540-acre Hardscrabble Ranch as open space. The preliminary money plan lines up like this:

• $9 million from Eagle County’s dedicated open space fund

• $700,000 from Eagle Ranch Wildlife Committee

• $500,000 from town of Eagle

• $3.1 million from Great Outdoors Colorado

• $775,000 from Eagle County Wildlife Impact Fund

• $500,000 from Eagle Valley Land Trust

• $100,000 from Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

• Subtotal: $13.7 million

The county might sell State Bridge and Two Bridges to the Bureau of Land Management for $1.35 million. That money survived last week’s stop-gap federal budget package. If that happens, the county will be $1.35 million short of the $16 million total. If the sale doesn’t happen, the county will be $2.7 million short of the total amount needed to purchase Hardscrabble Ranch.

Source: Eagle County Open Space Advisory Committee

EAGLE — A Brush Creek Valley ranch south of Eagle will likely remain undeveloped, ending a fight that started 46 years ago.

The county commissioners gave the green light to spending $9 million or more of the county’s voter-approved open space funds to help buy the 1,540-acre Hardscrabble Ranch. That leaves around $7 million to come from other sources to close the $16 million deal.

Yes, that’s expensive, but it’s worth it, said those who spoke in favor of the purchase Tuesday.

“I’m a resident of the Brush Creek Valley, and I’ve been wanting to say this for 40 years. I want this in my backyard.”Dick KesslerLocal rancher and real estate agent

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YIMBY: Yes in My Backyard

“I’m a resident of the Brush Creek Valley, and I’ve been wanting to say this for 40 years. I want this in my backyard,” said Dick Kessler, rancher and real estate agent.

The county commissioners hosted their first public hearing about the project Tuesday, drawing a packed house of supporters.

Hardscrabble Ranch became a ranch in the 1880s. It became part of Fred Kummer’s proposed Adam’s Rib project in 1971. Kummer, a hospital developer based in St. Louis, bought thousands of acres and made no secret of his vision for a skiing and golfing resort up the Brush Creek Valley.

A group of Eagle residents banded together to fight the plan. Some of them were in the room Tuesday and broke into applause when the county commissioners gave the green light to pursue the purchase.

“It puts a ribbon on the last of the Adam’s Rib project,” said County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry, a lifelong Eagle resident.

A huge chunk of Kummer’s former Adam’s Rib project, 1,700 acres, is now part of Sylvan Lake State Park, plus hundreds of acres in Vassar Meadows.

Seeing it from all sides

Vern Brock has seen this from all sides. Brock grew up in Eagle and said his earliest childhood memories were the Hardscrabble Ranch and the Brush Creek Valley. He has been a member of the county’s planning commission for decades and was the town of Eagle’s community development director. He worked for Kummer between 2003 and 2007 and now runs his own consulting company.

“This is epic,” Brock said.

The two obstacles every development hits are traffic and water rights, Brock said, and Adam’s Rib’s impacts would have reached all the way to Vail.

Adam’s Rib would have meant hundreds of houses and 30,000 car trips a day through the Brush Creek Valley, Brock said. A call on water in the Brush Creek Valley could mean water problems going as far as Vail.

“This project benefits the entire valley — all those other developments that may realize ancillary benefits from this should be asked to contribute,” Brock said. “Give a horse to save thousands. Give a house to save thousands.”

Eagle’s all in

Eagle is draining its open space funds for years, as is Eagle Ranch.

“Everyone is enthusiastic enough about this project that we’re going to drain our reserves dry and rebuild them in coming years,” said Scott Turnipseed, of the Eagle town board and the town’s wildlife committee.

Jim Daus, director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust, said these kinds of properties come available every 10 or 20 years.

“This is our one shot,” Daus said.

It’s not final yet

The selling price is $16 million. The original asking price was $20 million, said Toby Sprunk, Eagle County’s open space director.

Multiple transactions with multiple partners is the rule, rather than the exception, Sprunk said. For example, the Colorado River Ranch took 13 transactions among a half-dozen partners.

“For small programs, partnerships are the key. It’s how small agencies like ours can do great things,” Sprunk said

The county’s open space staff started working on the deal last summer.

Tuesday’s unanimous county commissioner vote pledges $9 million of the county’s open space fund to the purchase. On Tuesday, that was the entire fund, but it will replenish. The county’s voter-approved open space tax raises around $4 million each year, according to the county’s financials.

Sprunk and others are also looking for money almost anywhere else they can find it.

They hope to have the water rights hammered out by Friday, Sprunk said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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