The Herald has taken no editorial position as yet on the so-called Chris Park land exchange. But the importance of public involvement in public affairs and the necessity of hearing from everyone who wishes to weigh in on a matter of community concern are ideas central to the Herald's Opinion section.
As such, we second Rep. John Salazar's call for the Forest Service to issue a 45-day extension for public comment on the recently released Draft Environmental Impact Statement about the proposed swap. All members of the public should have the opportunity to be heard.
Rep. Salazar, D-Manassa, asked for that extension in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last Friday. In it he also detailed concerns he has about the deal.
At issue is the proposed trading of three inholdings - islands of private land within national forests - for a federally owned piece of property adjacent to the Glacier Club resort. The question touches on a fascinating set of ideas and emotions.
One of the inholdings is the Mitchell Lakes property at the top of Hermosa Ridge. Including it is worthwhile, but the jewel in the mix is a larger piece of land up Hermosa Park, east of Durango Mountain Resort. Together those two parcels would make whole a large area of national forest.
A mining claim above Silverton that recently was added is of little interest. The Hermosa Park property is the real focus, with Mitchell Lakes an added value.
In exchange, the Glacier Club would get 265 acres south of Haviland Lake and adjacent to Chris Park, on which it then could build 125 homes and nine holes of golf. Chris Park itself is not part of the proposed deal.
There are arguments to be made both ways that involve the Forest Service's mission, the proper role of federal lands and class. They all center on the land the Glacier Club would get.
The Forest Service may well see the prevention of developments on inholdings that break up the forest - with the attendant legal requirement to grant access - as more important than preserving parcels within the established development corridor. It is not an unreasonable position.
Many locals, however, see the area around Chris Park as a valuable and convenient place to enjoy the outdoors in a memorably beautiful setting. Trading it away would deprive them of something useful that now is, in part, theirs.
Salazar listed local use of the land as one area that concerns him. He also said a new access road would bisect the remaining public land. And without being too specific, he touched on another aspect of this, as well.
Many find it infuriating that what now is public land would be used for multimillion-dollar trophy homes and a golf course open to only the very rich. Too many people have been priced out of some of the prettiest parts of Colorado for there not to be resentment at the idea of the Forest Service acquiescing to yet another such move.
There is a lot to talk about here. But what this proposal lacks is any sense of urgency. It has been under discussion for several years, and market conditions suggest the Glacier Club is unlikely to break ground any time soon.
Salazar is correct. The comment period should be extended.