Issue of wilderness access could threaten Bear Ranch land swap legislation

A proposed land swap that would consolidate billionaire William Koch’s Bear Ranch is being recrafted.

“We’ve heard from the community, and we’re going back and making changes,” said Brad Goldstein, director of Oxbow Resources.

Koch heads Oxbow Resources, which owns the Elk Creek coal mine a bit farther up the North Fork Valley from his ranch.

Goldstein’s comments came in the wake of an announcement that three environmental organizations were asking that no legislation be introduced in Congress to accomplish the swap. All of the organizations cited concerns about access to the Raggeds Wilderness below Ragged Mountain, which overlooks Bear Ranch and Paonia Reservoir.

The access issue is the main sticking point that the ranch will try to resolve, Goldstein said.

Many North Fork Valley residents complained about how consolidation of the ranch would eliminate their ability to reach a trail along the edge of the wilderness because they no longer could travel on Gunnison County Road 2, which provides a route to Bear Ranch and the wilderness.

Bear Ranch maintains County Road 2, Goldstein said. The road runs through a parcel of land administered by the Bureau of Land Management originally as a stock trail to and from the high country.

Bear Ranch would take over about 1,800 acres of that land, which separates the ranch’s two parts.

In return, Koch is offering to turn over 900 acres overlooking Blue Mesa Reservoir and the Dillon Pinnacles to be used by the National Park Service, possibly for a visitor center, plus a private home in Dinosaur National Monument. Koch is offering new access to the wilderness via trails through Buck Creek Ranch, which offers room for a parking area and foot and motorized trails.

Koch also is offering to purchase land that could be used for permanent public access to Jumbo Mountain near Paonia, a popular mountain-biking and hiking location.

One of the organizations critical of the swap, however, said in its letter to legislators that Bear Ranch “has not yet listened to the real concerns and needs of our community. They have manufactured problems and created solutions that benefit strategic allies and special-interest groups.”

The NFRIA-WSERC Conservation Center is joined by the Western Colorado Congress and High Country Citizens Alliance in Gunnison County in asking that no legislation be introduced. The commissions of Delta and Gunnison counties have supported the exchange, as has the city of Gunnison.

He hasn’t seen a new proposal, swap critic Ed Marston of Paonia said, “But all things are possible if a public right of way is protected. Access is all-important.”



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