by Christine Mahorney
In 2001, Blue Valley Ranch’s owner, Paul Tudor Jones, began efforts to exchange several parcels of land with the Bureau of Land Management. Nineteen years later, the deal is still in the making.
Under the proposal, Blue Valley Ranch would cede 1,832 acres to the Bureau of Land Management, and in exchange, the BLM would give the ranch 1,489 acres. Many of the acres ceded by the BLM to Blue Valley Ranch are currently “land locked” within the Ranch’s current property boundaries, or have little to no access points.
Despite widespread support for the exchange from both Summit and Grand County commissioners, along with several of Colorado’s state representatives, the BLM has been slow to consider the trade.
“The bottom line is there are great public benefits – far more than I’ve seen in other land exchanges,” said Summit County Board of Commissioners District 3 representative Karn Stiegelmeier. “For both Grand and Summit counties, the benefits are incredible.”
Stiegelmeier went on to detail some of the ways visitors and residents would be able to take advantage of increased access to the Blue River on the southern edge of the boundary, near the Summit County border.
Currently, land that is on the face of Green Mountain Reservoir could be developed. If the exchange takes place, that land becomes protected from development, preserving its scenic qualities and wildlife.
“It would be a major blight to have that (land) developed,” said Stiegelmeier.
In addition to considering the Gore Range views that could be disrupted with development, Stiegelmeier expressed concern for the public’s safety, and how the land exchange would address those concerns.
Rafters and kayakers who have accessed the Blue River using the trail just below and to the north of the dam are familiar with the steep, dirt “trail” that leads to the water’s edge. The rocky trail is so steep that many visitors decide that lowering rafts, kayaks and gear with a rope on a belay system
is preferable to carrying it down.
As part of the proposed land exchange, the dam trail and access would be improved, made more accessible, and would be properly managed. Similar efforts would be made at the take out on the north end. Additionally, the access points at confluence on the outskirts of Kremmling would be made wheelchair accessible.
Should the land exchange be approved, hikers would also have access to areas of forest that currently can only be accessed and viewed by boat from the river.
“It’s a benefit to the public to have access and safety,” Steigelmeier said. “It’s just a win/win.”
Grand County District 3 Commissioner, Kristen Manguso, echoed the sentiments of her southern district colleague, adding that – along with the land itself – Blue Valley Ranch has committed to investing $2 million into the confluence for improvements. Proposed improvements include the addition of public toilets, a hiking trail, picnic benches, trash receptacles and money in escrow to pay for trash and toilet maintenance. Toilets and trash receptacles and maintenance will also be added to the take out on County Road 10.
“Not only does the public have an overall acreage gain of public lands, they gain additional river access,” said Manguso. “This exchange allows for more public lands and more river footage than the public has now – all with (Blue Valley Ranch) funding a ‘park’ at the confluence.”
“At least for me, the public benefit is obvious,” Manguso concluded.
As for the BLM’s position on the proposed exchange, Kremmling Field Office manager Bill Mills said the BLM is currently evaluating the proposed land exchange to determine if the exchange is in the public’s best interest.
In a recent (unrelated) meeting between public officials and BLM Deputy Director William Perry Pendley, Grand County District 2 Commissioner, Merrit Linke, took an opportunity to express to Director Pendley collective frustration that – despite support from county commissioners and state legislators – the land exchange appears to have been stonewalled by BLM Colorado State Director Jamie Connell.
Connell has expressed and maintained a concern that the exchange is not an “overall net value” to the public. At the time of publication, Connell had not responded to a request for comment.