Land trades still alive

Brief by Central Staff

Land use – April 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine

Two controversial land swaps haven’t gone away — they’re both still active.

On March 14, the Colorado Board of Land Commissioners voted to “initiate the proposal” to swap 640 acres of state land on Little Cochetopa Creek in Chaffee County for 3,080 acres near La Jara Reservoir in Costilla County.

Normally, there’s a 30-day comment period, but perhaps because this one has inspired so much opposition from the Little Cochetopa neighbors, the board set a 90-day comment period.

Tom Smith, a developer based in Kansas City, owns the Costilla land, as well as a parcel next to the Chaffee section, which he leases for grazing. The neighbors we talked to are worried that Smith would want to develop the property if he got title to it.

Karin Adams, a Chaffee County Realtor who represents Smith, said he has no intention of developing it, but instead wants it as a “buffer” to protect his current property on the other side of the ridge — it is accessed from the Marshall Pass road.

We asked her how to get hold of Smith so we could hear his side of the story, but she wouldn’t tell us how to find him.

And so, we’ll try to have more about this in the future. It’s one of the first major land trades by the state since the passage of Amendment 16 in 1996, which gave the state land board more flexibility in managing state lands.

The other trade is in Lake County, and involves the county and the U.S. Forest Service. The county owns the 1,200-acre Hallenbeck Ranch at the foot of Mt. Elbert, and wants to trade it to the Forest Service for land at the base of Ski Cooper (also owned by the county) atop Tennessee Pass.

Development would follow — the county government says that unless Ski Cooper can grow, it will die — and that has alarmed Colorado Wild, an environmental group. They claim that Tennessee Pass is “the most significant forested corridor along the Continental Divide,” which would “become useless for wildlife” if Ski Cooper were expanded.

For our part, we tend to think Colorado Wild exaggerates a little. Surely, there are some wildlife corridors left without highways, ski resorts, and a multitude of commuters. But…

At one point, Colorado Wild was threatening a lawsuit. Now it says it won’t pursue that action if the Forest Service will commit to a full Environmental Impact Statement on the exchange.

That could take years, and so at last report, Lake County wasn’t thrilled by the delay.