Land exchange eyed for Clark parcel
Deal would monetize gift of land by longtime local couple
Originally published 2013-02-28
It’s taken a few years to come to fruition, but a land swap is now being eyed that would monetize a donation for affordable housing from a longtime local couple.
U.S. Forest Service leaders announced late last week that an administrative land trade is being proposed that would entail the agency coming under ownership of a parcel near Fossil Ridge previously owned by Butch and Judy Clark, in exchange for Homestake Mining Co. of California acquiring a 700-acre parcel that surrounds the former Pitch Mine near Marshall Pass.
The agency is currently seeking comments on the plan.
In 2010, ownership of the Clark’s 960-acre in-holding — surrounded by national forest and located about nine miles up Lost Canyon Road northeast of Gunnison — was transferred to the Trust for Public Land (TPL). The parcel is located at the headwaters of Beaver Creek, west of the Fossil Ridge Wilderness Area.
Purchased by the Clarks in 1971, the property includes a historic cabin built by longtime Gunnison resident Ben Jorgensen in the 1930s.
An envisioned land exchange was laid out under the terms of the donation agreement with TPL. The Clarks have long intended for the land — in some way — to benefit local affordable housing efforts.
A spin-off of the donation was the creation of the Gunnison Valley Housing Foundation (GVHF) — a non-profit formed to facilitate both the land trade and affordable housing grants for the county. The foundation, it’s planned, will receive the money accrued from the land deal.
The exchange is envisioned to work like this: After an appraisal of the property near Marshall Pass, Homestake would pay TPL for as much of the Clark parcel as is needed to make the exchange of equal value.
“It’s not known how much is going to be transferred to the Forest Service in this particular exchange,” TPL Senior Project Manager Justin Spring clarified of the Clark parcel. “It will allow the Forest Service to bring other land exchanges to the table that require what they call ‘private offered land.’”
Ownership of the Pitch parcel would then be transferred to Homestake; the Forest Service would come under ownership of the Clark land; and TPL would transfer cash from the transaction to GVHF.
While there were earlier talks about moving Jorgensen’s historic cabin from the site, support emerged a few years ago for keeping it in place for possible use by Nordic skiers.
Spring said that such an official arrangement is expected to be worked out in coming years. A 15-acre chunk of the Clark property that contains the Jorgensen cabin will remain under the ownership of GVHF.
Homestake currently owns 206 acres of patented lands where the mine was formerly located. The Forest Service parcel surrounds those private holdings and contains the mine’s water treatment plant and other ancillary facilities.
Homestake operated the open pit uranium mine from 1977 to 1984. Reclamation activities at Pitch — and on the surrounding Forest Service parcel — have been ongoing since mining ceased at the property.
Spring said that Homestake coming into private ownership of the surrounding forest lands would allow reclamation work to be conducted more efficiently — by eliminating duplicative monitoring and permitting requirements under both the Forest Service and the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.
“This is really all about making the last pieces of the mine restoration happen more efficiently,” Spring said.
Forest Service project manager John Almy indicated that as part of the deal, public easements would be established for three roads that cross the Forest Service’s Pitch parcel.
“We wanted to be sure that we didn’t obstruct the public’s ability to enjoy the national forest,” he said.
Currently, Almy said, there are no stipulations on how the property that would come into ownership by Homestake could be used once reclamation is complete.
“That’s something that’s probably going to be a topic of discussion,” he said. “It would have to be something critical that we felt like was in the public interest to make this exchange on balance with what we’re acquiring over there in the Fossil Ridge country.”
Almy noted that Homestake already owns the mineral rights underlying the property in question, having long ago abandoned the prospect of mining. For that reason, he said that future mining is unlikely.
As for, say, building homes on the site?
“I can’t imagine anybody would want to build there,” he said. “Sixty percent of the land is what was formerly an open pit mine. ... It’s a pretty harsh environment, and the remainder is fairly steep lodge pole forest.”
(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org)