Propose land trades generating controvsersy

Brief by Central Staff

Land Use – March 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine

Public agencies usually don’t buy or sell land. Instead, they trade it, and two proposed land swaps in Central Colorado are generating some controversy.

In 1997, several large ranches in southern Lake County went on the market. Three were purchased by the cities of Pueblo and Aurora for their water rights.

The Front Range cities didn’t really have any need for the land once they had the water, so Lake County got a good deal in buying the land for open space.

Or was it really for open space? The 1,200-acre Hallenbeck Ranch sits between Mt. Elbert and the Arkansas River. The county government proposes trading part of the ranch — a part that extends into the National Forest — for land at the base of Ski Cooper, which is owned by Lake County.

And it wouldn’t be open space there; some of it would be developed, probably with condos.

The Lake County government argues that Ski Cooper, at the summit of Tennessee Pass and not far from Vail, is withering, and without some growth and development, it will die.

Jeff Berman, president of an environmental group called Colorado Wild, has announced his opposition to the land trade and resulting Ski Cooper improvements. “That land is situated at the most significant forested corridor along the Continental Divide,” and if it were developed, it would “become useless for wildlife… We’ll do everything we can to stop it.”

The other proposed trade is in Chaffee County, southwest of Salida on Little Cochetopa Creek, and it involves a “school section.”

(When Colorado became a state in 1876, two sections in every township of public land — 2 square miles out of 36 — were set aside for the support of public education. Thus “school sections,” administered by a state board which, since the passage of an amendment to the state constitution in 1998, has the power to sell or trade this land.)

A developer named Tom Smith, who owns adjacent property, has proposed trading several thousand acres in the San Luis Valley for the Little Cochetopa school section.

For some reason, the neighbors aren’t thrilled.

To date, no hearings or the like have been scheduled.

For our part, we hope to publish more in the near future about both of these proposed land trades, and land trades in general.