Prioritizing public access

Commissioners to hear pros and cons of Emerald Mountain land swap

— A full house is expected Monday when the Routt County Board of Commissioners discusses a proposed Emerald Mountain land swap.

Since May, the Emerald Mountain Partnership, which is engineering a trade that would preserve the 6,300-acre Emerald Mountain, has been at odds with a grass-roots group that fears the exchange will turn public land used by people in smaller Routt County communities into private land. The opposition group, Citizens to Save Our Public Lands, said many rural Routt County residents enjoy Bureau of Land Management parcels that are being proposed for sale to private owners, but most likely would not use the land preserved on Emerald Mountain in Steamboat.

The Emerald Mountain Partnership believes the swap will increase public access to open space by trading small and hard-to-access BLM parcels that already are tagged for disposal for the heavily used Emerald Mountain.

On Monday, the State Land Board, which owns and intends to sell Emerald Mountain, the Bureau of Land Management and the Emerald Mountain Partnership, will give presentations to the county commissioners. Citizens to Save Our Public Lands will also give a presentation.

Rebecca Rolando, who heads the opposition group, expects about 30 representatives to show up at Monday's meeting along with aides from the offices of U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis and U.S. Sens. Wayne Allard and Ben Nighthorse Campbell. The group has written letters asking for support from the congressmen.

"It is getting to be a really contentious issue," Rolando said. "(The meeting) is going to be a real barn-burner."

The Emerald Mountain Partnership has run ads in the Steamboat Today asking those who support public lands with broad public access to attend Monday's meeting in support of the land swap.

Roland said her group, which has members from Yampa to Hayden and Clark and 600 signatures on a petition, wants to preserve Emerald Mountain.

"The preservation of Emerald Mountain should not be at the sacrifice of all of these other people in our community," Rolando said. "Leave that land as it is. Leave it BLM and do not dispose of it."

The land trade is part of a three-way transaction in which the State Land Board would give Emerald Mountain to the BLM for the money generated by the BLM's sale to private owners of about 14,800 acres of scattered parcels.

Two weeks ago, the State Land Board announced that it was withdrawing its request for 4,190 acres of the 4,300 additional acres of BLM land. All of the land taken off the table had public access and much of it was in large parcels.

Among the parcels the State Land Board eliminated from consideration were a 1,489-acre parcel in South Routt that is accessed from Routt County Road 17 and is next to U.S. Forest Service land; a 879-acre parcel that is accessed from C.R. 37 in South Routt; and a 160-acre parcel in West Routt that is part of Jimmy Dunn Draw and widely used for hunting.

City Council Pro Tempore Paul Strong, who sits on the Emerald Mountain Partnership board, said the decision to pull the 4,190 acres off of the table was an effort to address Citizens to Save Our Public Lands' concerns and to cut down the amount of land with public access that was being traded.

The 6,300-acre and publicly accessible Emerald Mountain, which would be preserved in the trade, is far larger than the 3,698 acres of publicly accessible land still being considered for the trade, Strong said. Strong also emphasized that 70 percent of the residents in Routt County are within a 10-mile drive of Emerald Mountain.

"It is a 60 percent increase of publicly accessible land. We are certainly increasing the amount of (publicly accessible) land to a larger percentage of people," Strong said.

Even with the 4,190 acres of land remaining in BLM possession, Rolando said her group's needs have not been met. They would like to see all the BLM land taken off the table, she said.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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