Glacier Club land swap challenged

At least one shot has been fired across the bow of the Glacier Club’s recently approved land exchange. Last week, the Save the Haviland Lake Recreation Area group formally appealed the exchange, which would replace 228 acres of public land in Chris Park with nine holes of golf and as many as 125 luxury homes.

Several years ago, the Glacier Club, an exclusive golf community north of Durango, secured options to purchase the only private inholdings remaining in the Hermosa Creek Roadless Area. One of the 160-acre parcels is located near the upper Hermosa Creek trailhead and the other sits high above the Animas River Valley at Mitchell Lakes. The Glacier Club offered to exchange these parcels to the Forest Service for approximately 320 acres north of the existing resort and currently inside the Haviland Lake Recreation Area. The acreage would be subdivided into exclusive homesites and another nine holes of golf, bringing the resort’s total to 36 holes.

After several years of study, numerous public hearings and various land appraisals, the Forest Service put a modified stamp on the land exchange in late May. According to the decision, the Forest Service would acquire the coveted 160 acres in Hermosa Park as well as a 10.3-acre inholding inside the Weminuche Wilderness. In exchange, the agency will transfer 228 acres inside the Haviland Lake Recreation Area to the Glacier Club. In order to pick up some slack between appraised values, the Glacier Club will make a $444,000 “cash-equalization payment” to the U.S. government. Mitchell Lakes, the other 160 acre parcel, was dropped from the land exchange when the Glacier Club and the land owner were unable to agree upon a purchase price.

The decision immediately mixed emotions in Durango. Many reiterated longstanding public concerns about the land swap – that the Hermosa Park parcel is too remote to be considered a comparable exchange; and that the Glacier Club development would effectively wipe out a large portion of a historic wagon road, among other things.

Last week, an attorney with the Western Lands Project filed an appeal of the exchange on behalf of the group, Save the Haviland Lake Recreation Area (SHLRA).

“There are numerous technical issues with how they conducted the exchange,” said Richard Robinson, the group’s founder.

A chief concern was how the Forest Service appraised the parcels in the exchange. Among other issues, Robinson noted that the Mitchell Lakes parcel was used as a comparable property for the appraisal process, even though it already was a component of the swap.

“In addition, their value for the Mitchell Lakes parcel was its asking price,” Robinson added. “Even then, it had a much lower price than pieces on the market closer to Chris Park.”

The issue of the Forest Service’s treatment of the historic wagon road is also raised in the appeal. Robinson noted that several archaeologists have commented that the wagon road could be the best example of a historic wagon trail in Colorado. However, the agency has proposed exchanging a portion of it to the Glacier Club without even inventorying its historic value.

“They haven’t even looked at the entire wagon road,” Robinson said. “They’ve never inventoried the entire route.”

The Save the Haviland Lake Recreation Area appeal, as well as possible others, will now go before an appeals board with the Rocky Mountain Region of the Forest Service. That board will determine whether the challenges have merit and whether to overturn or uphold the approval of the land exchange.

Caves and mines closed to protect bats

An unusual resident of the Rocky Mountains is in serious peril, and the U.S. Forest Service is taking proactive and protective steps to help. This week, all caves and abandoned mines on Rocky Mountain national forests and grasslands were closed in order to protect bats from the spread of white nose syndrome

White nose syndrome has been tied to the deaths of more than 1 million bats in the eastern U.S. Originally detected in the mid-Atlantic states, the fungus has spread through the South and Midwest and was recently found in Oklahoma, within 300 miles of the Pike and San Isabel National Forest in Colorado.

Bat mortality of nearly 100 percent has occurred in many WNS-affected caves and mines, and nine bat species are known to have been affected, including the endangered Indiana bat and gray bat.

“Given the critical threat to bat populations that WNS poses, it is urgently necessary to take aggressive, pre-emptive action to slow its spread,” said Tony Dixon, deputy regional forester. “The potential for collapse of regional bat populations, and the ecological and economic impacts that could result, are critical concerns.”

White nose syndrome is named for a white fungus that appears on the faces, ears, wings and feet of hibernating bats. The disease causes bats to come out of hibernation severely underweight, often starving before the insects on which they feed emerge in the spring. Once a colony is infected, it spreads rapidly and can kill more than 90 percent of bats within the cave in just two years. Scientists suspect transmission of WNS may be facilitated by human activity in caves where bats hibernate.

Log Chutes logging under way

A popular Durango trail system has gone back beneath the blade. The Forest Service kicked off the third phase of a thinning project on the Log Chutes Trail System last week, and hikers and mountain bikers may encounter temporary trail closures while using the system. Work is expected to continue throughout the summer, fall and into next spring.  

Riders and hikers should be alert for signs or flagmen warning of potential hazards and/or temporary trail closures. Motorists on Junction Creek Road can expect to encounter heavy truck traffic, including logging trucks, during project activities.

The forest-thinning operations will focus on 260 acres of the Log Chutes Trail System on the east side of Junction Creek Road. The goal is to reduce hazardous fuels through the cutting and removal of designated ponderosa pines, with a hydro-mower mulching the resulting slash materials. Following the project’s completion next spring, hand thinning will begin on steep slopes that were not accessible to the mechanized equipment. The goal is to promote healthy stands of ponderosa pine and reduce wildfire danger.

– Will Sands

 

 

 

In this week's issue...

May 2, 2019
In the flow

Rafting season is already under way on the Animas River, which has been flowing at near record levels and almost double the average rate for this time of year.

April 25, 2019
Laying down the law

Over the past couple decades, Jeff Robbins’ work as an  oil and gas lawyer – with a specific focus on serving local communities – allowed him to build relationships and gain the experience needed to carry out one of Colorado’s most sweeping reforms to oil and gas regulations, Senate Bill 181. 

April 18, 2019
A new kind of cold war

It’s a good thing Heidi Steltzer can’t tolerate the heat or the open ocean. “I thought I wanted to be a marine biologist, and I got seasick,” said Steltzer, a professor in the Biology Department and Environmental Science program at Fort Lewis College.