The U.S. Forest Service has picked up 407 acres of private land in La Plata and Dolores counties, including a 160-acre inholding at Mitchell Lakes north of Durango.
In exchange, the forest service ceded 53 acres in Summit County. The deal ends a long saga for Southwest Colorado that at one time involved several pieces of land and raised a local controversy.
Mitchell Lakes are shallow ponds west of U.S. Highway 550, north of Honeyville and adjacent to the Hermosa Roadless Area. The agency failed to get that parcel several years ago in a much-discussed land swap that involved a parcel at the northern Hermosa Creek trailhead.
The remainder of the latest acquisition is 247 acres on Flattop Mountain on the south side of Lizard Head Pass in the San Miguel Roadless Area.
Both parcels are remote and undeveloped, providing excellent wildlife habitat and splendid views, an agency news release said Thursday.
The transactions, said Paul Semmer with the White River National Forest in Summit County, worked this way:
The national nonprofit Trust for Public Land, which works to preserve lands from development, acquired the Mitchell Lakes and Flattop Mountain land last year. The trust then sold the parcels, at a value of $1.74 million, to the town of Breckenridge.
Breckenridge traded its new acquisitions to the Forest Service for the 53 acres in Summit County. But since the 53-acre parcel was valued at $1.41 million, the Forest Service made up the $30,000 difference in cash.
“Our goal was to protect them from development that could impact public values on surrounding national forest land,” Tim Wohlgenant, the Colorado director of Trust for Public Land, was quoted as saying.
The 53 acres deeded to Breckenridge are 36 acres in the Claimjumper Parcel, which is surrounded by development and 17 acres in the Cucumber Gulch Wedge Parcel, which is immediately west of the city next to a community trail system.
The Western Land Group, a consulting firm that specializes in nonprofit and public land dealings, facilitated the exchange.
Forest Service experts did environmental analyses to determine if the exchange benefits the public.
The Forest Service is open to other land exchanges in La Plata and Dolores counties if the situation is right, the agency news release said.
The Mitchell Lakes parcel was part of a proposal broached in 2007 by the Glacier Club, which wanted 265 acres of national forest near the Chris Park campground north of Durango to expand its golf course and build homes.
The club offered three parcels totaling 330 acres at Mitchell Lakes, in the Hermosa Park area and the 10-acre Iron Clad mining claim south of Silverton in the Weminuche Wilderness.
Protracted negotiations and public meetings followed, with environmentalists, history buffs and recreationalists protesting.
In the end, the Glacier Club received 228 acres at Chris Park and the Forest Service got 160 acres in Hermosa Park, the mining claim and $444,000 in cash.