The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will soon begin planning for a parcel it acquired last year as part of a controversial land trade.
The 557-tract area, known as the Sutey Ranch Parcel, is located adjacent to the highly popular 3,100-acre Red Hill Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA) outside Carbondale.
The swap privatized 1,260 acres of public land on the north flank of Mount Sopris, which has now been folded into an adjacent 4,000-acre ranch owned by Leslie and Abigail Wexner, the Ohio-based billionaire owners of L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret and Bath and Body Works.
In addition to the Sutey Ranch Parcel, the 112-acre Haines Parcel along Prince Creek, which is popular with mountain bikers, became public as a result of the trade.
Both the Sutey Ranch and the Haines parcels were acquired by the Wexners for the purposes of the trade. The parcels that were privatized through the exchange are all protected with conservation easements.
According to David Boyd, public affairs specialist with the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office, the Sutey Ranch Parcel, which is now only open to foot and horse traffic, is undeveloped.
That could start to change in the next couple months.
“We hope to announce the beginning of the planning process determining how we will manage the Sutey Ranch Parcel in the first part of this year,” Boyd said. “We will have multiple opportunities for the public to be involved, which will be key to helping us determine the management of that area.”
According to Boyd, the Red Hill SRMA area receives an estimated 55,000 user days each year — a user day being one person using the area on one day.
“Designated in 1999, the Red Hill SRMA area focuses on hiking and mountain biking,” Boyd said. “While Red Hill is popular with mountain bikers, the largest use we see is from hikers.”
Boyd said the area has 14 miles of marked trails.
In addition to having the Sutey Ranch Parcel added to its acreage, the Red Hill SRMA will also benefit from a recent acquisition made by the Carbondale-based Aspen Valley Land Trust (ALVT), which, in December, completed an $825,000 purchase of a 25-acre parcel at the base of Red Hill.
The parcel acquired by the AVLT will eventually be turned over for management purposes to the Carbondale Parks and Recreation Department.
New trails are sure to be built as a result of the two new additions to the Red Hill.
As of two weeks ago, the AVLT needed to raise another $370,000 to initiate the next phase — planning and constructing new trail connections to Red Hill, moving the trailhead to the bottom of the hill and creating a management fund to enable the town to care for the parcel once ownership is transferred.
The group got a shot in the arm last week, when the Garfield Board of County Commissioners voted to pony up $200,000.
“They voted to approve a placeholder request for 2019 Conservation Trust funding,” said ALVT executive director Suzanne Stephens. “They are prohibited from making multi-year funding commitments due to TABOR (the taxpayers bill of rights, which requires voter-approval of tax increases), so it’s a tentative commitment without dollar figure attached, but it was roundly supported.
“If we hit the funding goals, we’ll start planning the trail project right away and hopefully get a trail in by fall,” Stephens said last week. “Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers has selected this for one of its 2018 trail projects, so they are on board to work on at least the pedestrian trail.”
According to Boyd, “We have been coordinating closely with AVLT on their purchase and will continue to do so as the connector trails are planned.”
A BLM press release issued shortly after the Wexner/Sutey Ranch land exchange was completed stated that the Wexners donated $100,000 directly to the BLM for the development of a site-specific management plan for Sutey Ranch and $1 million to the ALVT to hold in perpetuity for BLM’s long-term management of the newly acquired properties.
Aspen Daily News Editor Curtis Wackerle contributed to this story.