South Routt mulls land trade

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Swapping scattered pieces of BLM land for a chunk of Emerald Mountain doesn't sit well with Oak Creek resident Mary Deppe.

Deppe said she has used some of the smaller Bureau of Land Management parcels that could become private land because of the proposed Emerald Mountain Land Exchange.

But, she said, "I don't think I would use Emerald Mountain living in South Routt."

Residents from South Routt County and beyond attended an open house Tuesday. At the meeting, the Bureau of Land Management collected comments about the land exchange and possible uses for Emerald Mountain if the exchange goes through.

In the exchange, about 15,600 acres of smaller parcels -- many of which do not have public access -- essentially would be swapped for about 6,345 acres on Emerald Mountain.

Landowners whose property borders the parcels for sale can buy the parcels. But some may not be able to purchase the land, said Dan Craig, president of the Routt County Farm Bureau. Craig himself is trying to buy a parcel of land involved in the swap but isn't sure he'll be able to come up with the money.

Another concern is the loss of open space in the area, he said.

"My biggest concern is Steamboat Springs," Craig said. "They think they've got to take over and direct the entire county anymore."

Colleen Ortiz, who lives in Yampa, said she supports the exchange.

"I think it's a great way to get a very unique piece of land" that is important for wildlife and people, she said. Having a large chunk of Emerald Mountain would benefit the public more than the scattered small parcels. Ortiz said she does not use the small parcels involved in the exchange.

About a dozen people came during the first few hours of the South Routt meeting. About 80 people came to the Steamboat Springs meeting, said John Husband, field manager for the BLM's Little Snake Field Office.

Comments will be collected through the end of the month. If Emerald Mountain is acquired, possible uses could include recreation, motorized and non-motorized travel, energy development, agricultural uses and more. When the BLM has a list of issues to consider, it will develop alternative management plans.

The level of support for the exchange seems stronger in Steamboat than elsewhere, Husband said. Jerry Strahan, assistant field manager for the Little Snake Field Office, said he estimated that about 12 people at the Steamboat meeting were in favor of the exchange for every one person who spoke against it.

Buck Swigart, whose wife's family homesteaded in South Routt 100 years ago and has lived there since, said the exchange presents a difficulty to ranchers who have been leasing the land and now have to buy it.

He also worried that the land would not remain open space if it is sold.

Preserving Emerald Mountain is important, but there should be other ways to do it, Oak Creek Mayor Kathy "Cargo" Rodeman said after looking through the open house.

She also worried about the amount of public land that would be lost in the trade. When it's traded, it will not be public land again, she said.

"We won't ever get it back," she said.

The third and final public meeting is from 3 to 8 p.m. today at Hayden Town Hall.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 817-4203

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