BLM land swap progresses

4,000 acres of Emerald Mountain expected to be public by 2007

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— By 2007, more than 4,000 acres in the Emerald Mountain area is expected to be publicly accessible and spared from development.

A land swap between the Bureau of Land Management and the State Land Board would accomplish the goal set out by the Emerald Mountain Partnership of preserving the land located in the portion of Emerald Mountain north and east of Cow Creek Road. The land in question is on the backside of the mountain. Existing recreational trails on the front side of Emerald Mountain would not be affected by the proposal.

The Emerald Mountain Partnership is composed of a group of residents with representation from local government. Members of the group have been working since early 1993 to keep the land from being developed and to maintain its agricultural components, said Ben Beall, chairman of the partnership.

"It's just exciting that we've reached this point," he said.

The BLM announced Tues-day that the notice of decision has been signed, which is one of the final steps that would change the portion of Emerald Mountain from non-accessible State Land Board lands to public lands under BLM management.

The State Land Board, which currently controls the undeveloped land, has slated the Emerald Mountain parcel for sale as part of its responsibility to generate money for schools.

In exchange for the Emerald Mountain parcel, the State Land Board would receive 123 isolated BLM parcels in Routt County totaling 15,416 acres. The State Land Board would then sell that land, much of which is useless to BLM because it is not accessible by the public. The State Land Board would receive an estimated $11.63 million from the sale of the land.

The proposal has been met with some criticism from landowners and BLM lessees whose property borders the small BLM parcels.

The public is not expected to have access to the Emerald Mountain land until the exchange is completed in early 2007. Some of the land will continue to be used in its current form and leased as grazing grounds. Trail improvements are among the recreational amenities proposed by the Emerald Mountain Partnership. Hiking, mountain biking, wildlife viewing and hunting are uses that will be considered for the land as a recreation management plan is developed within a year of the land being swapped. Entities working on that plan would include the City of Steamboat Springs and the Emerald Mountain Partnership.

The signing of the notice of decision by BLM Little Snake Field Office manager John Husband on Tuesday started a 45-day public protest period.

Beall said they have jumped a lot of hurdles in making this exchange possible, but the Emerald Mountain Partnership is confident the land swap will be completed after the protest period.

- To reach Matt Stensland, call 871-4210 or e-mail mstensland@steamboatpilot.com

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