Swapping places

The owners of the Glacier Club aren’t returning my phone calls.

It’s been nearly five years since we first broke the story on the Hermosa Park/Mitchell Lakes Land Exchange, and I’ve dialed their number in search of comment more than a few times. Lost message? Faulty voice mail? Selective dialing? There’s no telling.

I have received one message from the Glacier Club, albeit second-hand and word-of-mouth. Back in the mid-2000s, my brother paid a visit to the exclusive golf community to drop off his girlfriend to interview for a marketing job. He happened to meet one of the owners, and the conversation went along swimmingly … until the younger Sands stumbled and mentioned his relation to me.

“You give your older brother a message,” the man passed along. “Tell him to stop referring to our project as a ‘land swap.’ You can explain that we are trying to complete a ‘land exchange’ with the Forest Service.”

I could almost begin to see his point (I do tee it up occasionally, after all). An image of Mrs. Chris Park and Mrs. Hermosa Park “swapping” bedrooms does color things a bit. Throw in Mr. Mitchell Lakes, and things definitely get a little dirty. Nonetheless, I brushed the suggestion aside. “Swap” also has golden connotations in Colorado. The real truth is that “golf” is considered a much dirtier word in many corners of our state.

Several weeks ago, as the club’s proposed “exchange” edged closer to approval, we picked up the phone yet again and dialed for Glaciers. Amazingly, we got a human voice on the line; mentioned the preferred alternative of trading 265 acres of Chris Park to the golf community in exchange for three privately-owned forest inholdings; and asked if the Glacier Club would like to comment.

Alas, we received a one-word reply – “No” followed by a hang-up.

For some reason, the Glacier Club doesn’t want to tell the Telegraph, or its readers, why the “land swap” is such a good deal for the public. And I’m honestly feeling a little put out, not so much as a Telegrapher but as a U.S. citizen who owns a little stake in that piece of Chris Park they’re trying to transform into a nine-hole, real estate dream.

Had the Glacier Club ever picked up the phone, they’d learn that we’re very much in favor of moving the 160 acres in Hermosa Park and 160 acres near Mitchell Lakes into public hands. The privately-owned inholdings adjoin some of our favorite Durango backcountry, pristine corners of the San Juans that I personally have visited no fewer than a dozen times this year alone. Removing the final two gaps in the Hermosa Roadless Area – Colorado’s largest – would let more than one angler, rider, hiker, mushroomer and forester rest that much easier at night.

I’m even happy to put aside my misgivings about private clubs and security guarded communities. And I can really stretch and see how an additional nine holes of golf (nine new fairways we mere mortals can visit only in a greenskeeper/caddy capacity) and 125 new executive homesites would benefit the community in a sales/property tax capacity.

But there is one major stumbling block. The fact is those 265 Chris Park acres neighboring the Glacier Club are beyond golden. And it’s been said before (many times), but the two ends of this “exchange” just don’t match up financially. In fact, this “land swap” (oops, I did it again) is millions, maybe tens of millions, out of balance. Executive homesites and hardscrabble backcountry don’t even share the same playing field.

Sure, the Mitchell Lakes parcel boasts some of the best views in La Plata County and regularly hosts some exquisite fat tire suffering, but it is essentially undevelopable and has little monetary value. Its highest and best use is as it is today – rock and scrub. Let me check the Multiple Listing Service, but steep, inaccessible and rugged are not words that tend to draw the high-end developer.

The 160-acre Hermosa Park parcel may be among the most scenic parcels on the planet, a place where Blackhawk and Graysill mountains stand watch as the upper forks of Hermosa Creek bubble their way through the valley. But Hermosa Park is also several miles of washboard away from the nearest piece of pavement, totally off-limits in the winter, and so damned pristine you’d have to jump through a dozen hoops to build your exclusive flyfishing lodge. And if you believe that removing 35 acres from Glacier Club’s want list and adding the 10-acre Iron Clad mining claim near Silverton is enough to sweeten the deal, then I’ve got a bridge you might be interested in buying. The Forest Service also apparently has an appraiser who will help us make the transaction square.

Once you take a step back and look at real values, it starts feeling a bit like someone’s trying to pull one over on the country mice. After all, we Durangoans still can’t tell the difference between a “swap” and an “exchange.”

I do still believe that Hermosa Park should be acquired at nearly any cost. But fair is fair. They’re not making any more woods or backcountry these days, and our public lands should fetch fair market value. I’m sorry, boys, but the Glacier Club will have to ante a little higher if they want to break ground on Chris Park. And as for tuning up this little land exchange, I’d be happy to “swap” ideas with the owners of the Glacier Club. They’re welcome to give me a call anytime.

– Will Sands