The San Juan National Forest has proposed to exchange 265 acres of public land south of Haviland Lake near Chris Park Group Campground to the Glacier Club.
Under Glacier Club ownership, it would be developed into 125 luxury homes and nine more holes of private golf. The boundary would be only 600 feet from the Chris Park Campground.
In return for the Chris Park parcel, the National Forest would receive 330 acres of land currently either owned or controlled by the Glacier Club, consisting of three "inholdings" in the National Forest - islands of private land surrounded by public land. Inholdings are inconvenient to manage from the Forest Service's perspective, and there is always the threat that they will be developed. Eliminating inholdings is a laudable goal; however, choosing the Chris Park area for the exchange parcel is not the right way to achieve it.
The most important of the parcels the Glacier Club is offering is 160 acres in Hermosa Park that is central to the recovery of the native Colorado cutthroat trout. The Hermosa Park parcel is a gem, and it should certainly be transferred from private to public ownership. But the Forest Service and the Glacier Club have presented this exchange as an either/or choice, holding Hermosa Park as the hostage. It is a false choice.
There are sources of potential funding to purchase Hermosa Park and the other inholdings, but that option was not analyzed in the draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The analysis speculates about the development that might conceivably occur on the private parcels, while downplaying the certainty of development on the Chris Park parcel. The certain development near Chris Park would violate the Forest Service's own open space strategy, which obligates it to help preserve open space at the urban fringe and in scenic rural areas. County legal requirements for any future development on the inholdings are either cursorily treated or speculatively imagined in the DEIS.
The exchange would grant the Glacier Club a road easement that would cross a meadow, create scars across steep slopes visible from the scenic byway and bisect the land that would remain in public ownership. The centerline of the proposed road has been staked and flagged. You can walk it for yourself, beginning at Milepost 41 on Highway 550. Prepare to be horrified.
A section of an historic 1876 wagon road that is eligible for listing in both the National Register of Historic Places and the Colorado State Historic Register lies within the Chris Park parcel. Once transferred to the Glacier Club, the DEIS says it will most likely be obliterated. The mitigation measures suggested, such as making a documentary film of the road, are inadequate to compensate for the permanent loss to posterity of this cultural resource.
The public land that would be lost is visited by at least 45,000 people each year in all seasons, while the inholdings are remote at any time and inaccessible in winter. The Forest Service dismisses this as a "trade-off," and states, "the net result will be an overall public benefit." Yet during the last public comment period in 2007, it received more than 400 individual comments of which only 36 favored the exchange, and more than 1,500 signatures on petitions of opposition. Who gets to decide what's in the public benefit - the Forest Service or the public?
One aspect of the proposed exchange that has received little attention is the encroachment into the National Forest that the Glacier Club has already committed. Look carefully at the map of the Federal Parcel in the DEIS. See that skinny panhandle in the southwest corner? That's a piece of our National Forest on which the Glacier Club has trespassed by constructing one hole of its existing golf course on it. Instead of making the Glacier Club tear it out, or at least charging it rent, the Forest Service is proposing to just give it to it.
The deal we are being offered instead comes perilously close to extortion: "Give us our 125 trophy homes and nine more holes of golf and access across your meadow or we will build subdivisions inside your National Forest."
Just being for or against this exchange is no longer enough. Members of the public must make specific factual comments. Learn how to do that effectively at the informational meeting hosted by the Colorado Mountain Club from 7 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 23, at the Durango Public Library, or at www.SaveHaviland.org. Please help stop the swap.
Kitty Benzar is a member of the Save Haviland Lake Committee. She resides in north La Plata County and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.