Open Houses Scheduled for Dec. 17 and Jan. 13
TELLURIDE – Having acquired 180 acres of land in 2007 to restore public access by way of the Silver Pick Trail to Wilson Peak, the Trust for Public Land is now proposing to trade that land, along with other parcels across the state, to the U.S. Forest Service.
Pending a successful appraisal process, the Wilson Peak property would be exchanged for private parcels, including several near Alta Lakes and the Skyline Ranch.
Stephanie Fanos, a Telluride attorney representing Alta Lakes, LLC and Skyline Ranch Trust, LLC, which own the proposed exchange parcels, says her clients intend to conserve the land they would receive in the exchange.
“This exchange is not intended to create an opportunity for development,” said Fanos. “This is a conservation-based exchange.”
In the proposed exchange, the Forest Service would acquire five parcels of land comprising of over 680 acres across the state, in exchange for conveying four federal properties on Wilson Mesa, and adjacent to Alta Lakes and Skyline Ranch, of approximately 303 acres. Initial estimates indicate the decision could be reached by early 2015, according to the Forest Service. The deal would end nearly a decade of negotiations with landowners for access to popular Wilson Peak.
The original purpose of the land deal was for the Forest Service to regain access to Wilson Peak, a popular 14,000-foot peak in San Miguel County. A portion of the Silver Pick Trail crossed into property owned by Rusty Nichols, who closed public access to the trail in 2003. The Forest Service constructed the Rock of Ages Trail, bypassing Nichols’s land, and rejoining Silver Pick Trail south of his property. But that alternative route was too dangerous for many trying to access the peak.
In 2007, the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to restore public access to public land, purchased 180 acres from Nichols, reopening the Silver Pick Trail. The purchase cost the nonprofit $4.5 million, with help from a $150,000 grant from the Telluride Foundation.
“To us, this is important,” Tim Wohlgenant, Colorado and Southwest director at TPL said of the pending land exchange. “The public uses this peak a lot. We’re not land management experts. Right now, we’re managing this parcel. Getting this land under the auspices of the USFS is the logical conclusion of this effort.”
TPL’s 180 acres on Wilson Peak stretch from San Miguel County to Dolores County in the Lizard Head Wilderness. The exchange would not only ensure permanent access to Wilson Peak, said Corey Wong, a public service staff officer with Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, it would also eliminate the inholding.
In addition to the two trade parcels near Alta Lakes, on Turkey Creek Mesa, and another parcel on Wilson Mesa, there are two other federal parcels in Gunnison County and Alta Lakes that could be added to the deal to equalize values, should appraisals come up short. The Forest Service will oversee the appraisal procedure.
“The thing with these exchanges is that the appraisal values must be equal on both sides for it to work,” said Wong.
The Forest Service will host two open houses to take public comments on the proposed Wilson Peak Land Exchange Project.
The first one will be held on Dec. 17 at 4 p.m. at the Miramonte Building, 333 W. Colorado Ave. in Telluride; the second will be held Jan. 13 at the same time and location. The public comment period runs through Jan. 24.