Wednesday, March 13, 2002
Steamboat Springs Through a land exchange between the State Land Board and the Bureau of Land Management, Emerald Mountain has its best chance yet of being preserved in perpetuity, according to members of the Emerald Mountain Partnership.
The Emerald Mountain Partnership announced Wednesday it is pursuing a land exchange that would trade federal land in Routt County for the 6,345 acres the partnership is trying to save from development on Emerald Mountain.
If the swap works, the partnership would work with local governmental agencies, the BLM and the public to determine how the land should be managed.
To facilitate the "swap," the partnership would be attempting to get landowners to purchase BLM land in Routt County, much of which has no public access, said Ben Beall, the partnership's chairman. Then, that money will be used to pay the State Land Board for Emerald Mountain.
In essence, it is an exchange of land.
"We don't sell land," said Phillis Bowers, a realty specialist with the BLM. "Our policy is to exchange."
Bowers said the BLM has facilitated deals like this before to help communities preserve land.
The land is currently held in stewardship trust until 2005 by the partnership but is owned by the State Land Board and has a $17.2 million price tag on it. Through grazing and hunting leases, the land board makes about $43,000 per year on Emerald Mountain.
Other than those leases, however, the land is private and cannot be accessed by the public for hunting or other activities, Beall said.
The land board has the right and the duty to sell the parcel to a private owner to help fund schools in Colorado. Although Emerald Mountain is in the stewardship trust, which was established by Colorado voters in 1996 to protect 300,000 acres of State Land Board land, the land's preservation is far from guaranteed.
The process of acquiring the land through a land exchange could take a number of years, Beall said. And the partnership must still take all options into account even as they pursue this one in case it fails.
"We have a lot of work to do before this is finalized," Beall said.
The first step in preserving the mountain is to designate land parcels that are available to be sold to private landowners who want to purchase an adjacent parcel or an inholding. The BLM would not be selling prime parcels of land such as the federal land around Sarvice Creek; instead, the organization would pick out scattered hard-to-reach parcels that few people use or have access to, Beall said.
The partnership plans to work with a consultant, Western Land Group, to contract with landowners to buy the land. Western Land Group will not be paid directly by the partnership but may get a cut of each sale, Beall said.