Snowmass Town Council backs Pitkin County in transferring Snowmass Falls Ranch to USFS

Snowmass Town Council backs Pitkin County in transferring Snowmass Falls Ranch to USFS

The Town of Snowmass Village is backing Pitkin County and the Wilderness Land Trust in their pursuit to sell Snowmass Falls Ranch to the United States Forest Service (USFS). 

Pitkin County purchased 650 acres of land in the upper Snowmass Creek Valley on Feb. 5 for $34 million, the most expensive Open Space and Trails (OST) purchase for the county to date. It purchased the land with the intent of pursuing permanent, annual, federal funding for the land and integrating the ranch into the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. To do so, the county would sell the land to USFS.

The Snowmass Town Council emphatically approved a letter of support for a land transfer addressed to the supervisor of the White River National Forest in Tuesday’s Town Council meeting. 

“It’s an amazing piece of property and absolutely needs to be locked up from private use,” said Mayor Bill Madsen, who signed the official letter to USFS.

Snowmass Falls Ranch lies largely within the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness boundaries, and the Wilderness Land Trust had been in communication with the Perry family — Bob Perry and Ruth Brown Perry purchased the land in 1943 and, for 80 years, have kept the land in the family — for decades in hopes of purchasing the land on behalf of USFS. The 2020 passage of the Great American Outdoors Act opened up $900 million in permanent annual funding for the national Land and Water Conservation Fund, some of which is available for a USFS purchase of the land. 

Pitkin County secured a written commitment from the White River National Forest to pursue Land and Water Conservation Funds for purchase of Snowmass Falls Ranch. In order to pursue the funds, the county first had to purchase and hold the ranch.

The transfer to public ownership would allow the county to recoup most of the purchase price to invest in other community conservation projects, said Dale Will, acquisition and special projects director for OST in the county. 

“I look at this as a win-win for everyone,” he said. “If we can get some of those federal dollars into the valley, they can turn some of that beautiful property into permanent wilderness, and we can go conserve something else.”

Snowmass Falls Ranch is just outside of Snowmass Village and boasts miles of open meadows, aspen groves, spruce forest, wetlands, and shrublands. Elk, bears, moose, mule deer, mountain lions, beavers, and many bird species call the habitat home. The ranch also holds the most senior water rights to Snowmass Creek, according to the Wilderness Land Trust. 

Two USFS trails currently run through the ranch through trail easements. There are several cabins on a small portion of the property that USFS may not elect to purchase, Will said. If it does not purchase the land with cabins, the county could sell them to private owners with a conservation easement to protect the land.

“We’re essentially giving the Forest Service right of first refusal if they want it,” he said.

The Wilderness Land Trust will meet with the Land and Water Conservation fund coordinator on March 4 in Washington D.C. to discuss more details of USFS’ purchase of the Snowmass Falls Ranch.

 

By: Lucy Peterson| Snowmass Sun I February 21, 2024


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