Five entities closed on a $5 million deal Tuesday to buy the 145-acre Saltonstall parcel in the midvalley for open space purposes.
The purchasing parties include Eagle County, which put in $2 million; Pitkin County, which spent $1.86 million; Great Outdoors Colorado, which contributed $600,000; the town of Basalt, which put in $500,000; and the Mid Valley Trails Committee, which contributed $50,000.
The land, visible to the southwest from Highway 82 in El Jebel, includes some 90 acres on the lower flank of a land feature called the Crown that is considered critical winter range for elk and mule deer.
The property also includes 50 acres of historically irrigated farmland below the Home Supply Ditch, one of the larger and older irrigation ditches in the valley. The deal includes shares in the ditch and senior water rights, according to Dale Will, the director of Pitkin County’s open space program.
Andrew “Salty” Saltonstall is the seller of the property. A member of the famed Saltonstall family of Massachusetts, Salty was a founding partner in the Ink! coffee shop in Aspen and an enthusiastic benefactor of the Gentleman of Aspen rugby team.
Saltonstall retained a separate 40-acre parcel for his family’s private use but also agreed to place a conservation easement on 16 acres of his land along the Roaring Fork River, directly across from Crown Mountain Park. No public access will be allowed on the riverfront parcel, which will also be protected from cattle grazing.
The larger Saltonstall parcel was subject to residential development pressure, Will said, noting that several homes are already on the lower flank of the Crown.
“We’ve checked the intrusion of suburban ranchettes on the Crown,” Will said.
Pitkin County approved its expenditure for the property in May 2012 and also agreed to manage the property, which is in Eagle County but close to the Pitkin County line.
The county commissioners also voted in December to front up to $5 million to help close the deal, but in the end, the county only needed to put up $2.3 million and expects to be reimbursed by GOCO and the Mid Valley Trails Committee for their shares later this year.
“The partnership that has formed to accomplish this project is in some ways as stellar as the property we’re preserving,” said Eagle County Commissioner Sara Fisher, according to a press release from Pitkin County.
The property has been re-named the Red Ridge Ranch Open Space, for a highly visible ridge on the property.
“If you are looking at it from Highway 82, you will see a red ridge line on the property,” Will said.
The main parcel is on the hillside above the Rio Grande Trail, downstream of the Hook’s Lane bridge.
A new trail is likely to connect the Rio Grand Trail to federal land on the Crown, after a management plan has been completed, Will said.
“This will be the first legitimate multi-purpose trail onto the Crown from the Basalt side,” Will said.
Last year, when the county authorized its share of the purchase, some neighbors expressed concerns about additional traffic in the area from mountain bikers driving and parking at a trailhead there before heading out to the trails in the Crown area.
“Our goal is that all the public access to the trail, when it is open, be handled by the Rio Grand Trail itself,” Will said. “We are going to encourage people to come to that area on the Rio Grande.”
The county also intends to lease the farm land back to a local rancher in order to keep it in a productive agricultural state, which is a common tactic used by the county to manage certain open space parcels, Will noted.
“The Saltonstall Ranch purchase represents a key step in preserving Roaring Fork valley floor agricultural lands regardless of county boundaries,” said Howie Mallory, chair of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board, in a county press release. “We are delighted that our partners in this purchase share this long-term ag-lands vision.”
Several people are currently living in two double-wide trailers on the property and the residents can stay there for up to a year longer, but GOCO is requiring that they leave the property at that point, Will said.
The Saltonstall property joins other protected parcels in the midvalley, including the 200-acre Grange Ranch farther upvalley, the 65-acre Emma Open Space, and the historic Emma townsite properties, all of which are now owned and managed by Pitkin County.
Editor’s note: Brent Gardner-Smith of Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Aspen Daily News on coverage of Pitkin County.