BLM proposes land swap near Mount Sopris
The Bureau of Land Management on Monday proposed a land trade that would let a billionaire retailer add 1,268 acres to his ranch at the base of Mount Sopris near Carbondale.
The agency’s proposal, contained in a preliminary environmental assessment, comes a few months after Pitkin County dropped its opposition to the idea after winning additional concessions.
The proposal is subject to a public comment period ending May 29.
The proposal has been sought by Ohioan Leslie Wexner, founder of Limited Brands, which includes Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. It would allow him to acquire acreage now dividing his 4,700-acre Two Shoes Ranch.
The BLM would acquire the 557-acre Sutey Ranch, which has critical big game habitat and is next to the popular Red Hill Special Recreation Area north of Carbondale. The BLM also would gain the water rights from the ranch. It also would receive 112 acres near Mount Sopris along Prince Creek Road. That acreage already is used to access BLM roads and trails in a popular mountain bike area, but the acquisition would guarantee its ability to be used as access in the future.
In addition, the BLM would transfer three parcels totaling 201 acres on Horse Mountain in Eagle County to the owner of the adjacent Lady Belle Ranch, with that ranch paying Wexner for the acquisition.
The BLM says the parcels it would be giving up have limited access. While it would be gaining 668 acres in exchange for 1,470, it says it is likely that land appraisals will show the exchange favors the public, even without the Wexner’s commitment to also contribute $1 million for long-term management of the BLM’s newly acquired land, and $100,000 for initial development of that management plan.
Under the proposal, all the lands given up by the BLM would be subject to conservation easements preventing development and protecting wildlife habitat.
While entities including Garfield and Eagle counties, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Aspen Valley Land Trust have long supported the swap, Pitkin County initially questioned whether it provided adequate public benefit.
However, the county endorsed the idea after Wexner also agreed:
■ to place a conservation easement on 365 acres of his existing ranch, to help protect deer, elk and bighorn sheep;
■ to give up development rights for 10 homes on his land and move a proposed indoor riding arena to a location less visible from the Crystal River Valley;
■ to give the county $700,000 intended for acquiring and building a mile-long trail parallel to Prince Creek Road.
Those conditions are separate from the BLM land exchange process, but contingent on its approval.