The U.S. Forest Service will hold an open house on Wednesday, Oct. 19, from 5 to 6:30 p.m., at the El Jebel Community Center, 20 Eagle County Rd., El Jebel. The purpose of the event is to give the public the opportunity to obtain more information on the service’s plan to sell or lease an approximately 30-acre parcel of federal land in the southwestern corner of Eagle County.
The land — formally called the El Jebel Administrative Site, Upper Parcel Conveyance Project — lies just west of Crown Mountain Park and south of Valley Road. It was once part of a large tree farm for White River National Forest (though it is not within the national forest); more recently, it has been used for employee housing and equipment storage. However, as Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Kevin Warner explained in a Sept. 16 press release announcing the Forest Service’s intent to dispose of the property, “We’re no longer able to maintain the aging buildings and other infrastructure to our standards.”
The site is part of a larger piece of property that includes a lower bench of some 40 acres of land to the south along the right (north) bank of the Roaring Fork River; that land, which is a rich riparian and wetlands environment, is not for sale. The original tree farm included the property now constituting Crown Mountain Park, which leases the land from the Forest Service.
The Forest Service has long expressed a desire to sell or lease its property in El Jebel, but the decision to move ahead was stalled for years, in part because of restrictions on such sales. However, federal legislation enacted in 2018 now allows Forest Service districts to retain proceeds from sales and leases locally. Talking to The Sopris Sun, Warner explained, “Our primary intent is to end up with more housing for our employees” by using the proceeds to “reinvest in new facilities” that will hopefully help recruit and retain employees. He continued, “We’re looking at it as a public service for the community.”
Open houses were held in 2017 and earlier this year, as well as “listening sessions” in 2021. From those events, it was determined that the lower-bench section would not be included in the sale or lease for ecological reasons and because it is a popular destination for anglers and hikers. Then, in the Sept. 16 release, it was announced that a final environmental assessment and draft decision had been reached, paving the way for disposal of the upper bench property.
Both Eagle and Pitkin counties have been given the right of first refusal on the property. Eagle County has already expressed interest in acquiring some or all of the acreage. As Jeff Schroll, Eagle County’s manager, told The Sun, uses of the land could be for more recreational space or for affordable housing, particularly for seniors. He noted that it was “kind of weird” sharing the right of first refusal with Pitkin County (brought about by a previous land-exchange deal, Warner noted), but that acquisition of the land “would be a collaborative effort” with Pitkin. He added, “The town of Basalt will be at the table as well.”
The Forest Service may opt to retain some of the space to continue its use as an “administrative site” for housing or storage. If the two counties or the Forest Service waive their right, the property can be put up for competitive sale or lease; water and mineral rights may also be conveyed in that transaction.
A second announcement on Sept. 16, issued by Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams, launched a 45-day objection period, in which those “who have previously submitted specific written comments regarding the proposed project” can submit any objections they have to the proposed project. More information on the status of the El Jebel land transaction, including comments from previous open houses and objections during the current period, can be found at www.bit.ly/ElJebelFS
Although Shroll is excited at the prospect of the county acquiring the property, “We have to wait for the 45-day period,” which ends Oct. 31. After that, there will be an assessment of the property that will set the price, which is not negotiable. As Shroll put it, “You take it or leave it.”