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Express your Opinion on the Land Swap
Â© Richard Grossman MD, 2009
I appreciate Representative John Salazar for taking an interest in the National Forest Land Swap, an important issue for residents of La Plata County. His request to lengthen the comment period had the desired resultâ€”the Forest Service will receive comments until October 30th. I hope that more people will express their opinions about this proposed swap. I also hope that they will identify any vested interest. Apparently this sort of transparency was lacking during the recent public meeting during which most people in favor of the swap had reason to benefit financially from it.
In general, this column is about balancing humans with the natural world. The proposed land swap is about balancing the benefits of preserving one beautiful tract with three others.
To review, the Glacier Club (still called â€œTamarronâ€ by Durangotangs) wants to extend its properties to the north. It has proposed a land swap with the National Forest to gain ownership of property south of Chris Park. In exchange, it would give the National Forest three privately owned parcels. Closest is the tract where two branches of Hermosa Creek join. It is largely overgrazed meadow where cattle have damaged the streams. I hear that the second, â€œMitchell Lakes,â€ is beautiful. With Forest Service ownership, both parcels could be protected from development and further harm. They intend to exclude cattle and restore the riparian habitat and native cutthroat trout to Hermosa Creek. An old mining claim in the Weminuche Wilderness, the third parcel is above Silverton.
The official appraisals of these four parcels are available on the San Juan Forest site at: www.fs.fed.us/r2/sanjuan/projects/projects.shtml. This site also has maps of the four parcels, a map showing existing public trails that would be closed if Tamarron prevails, and a link to the huge Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Most important, there is information on how to contact the Forest Service with your opinion on the swap.
The National Forest has been trying to get the Hermosa parcel for decades. It would be wonderful for this to happen; on the other hand, I would hate to lose access to some of the National Forest closest to Durango.
One of the things I dislike most about the proposed swap is that some of this beautiful land would probably be used for nine new holes of golf. Tamarron is already audacious enough to have built some of its current golf course on National Forest land, and part of the swap is to legalize that arrogance. Golf courses are notable for their harm to the environment. Not only do they destroy the native species that once thrived on the land, they require vast quantities of water and toxic chemicals to maintain non-native grass.
Like it or not, I think the land swap is pretty much a â€œdone deal.â€ We do have the opportunity to request that the impact on the Chris Park area be minimized. I have written Cindy Hockelberg at: email@example.com with my suggestions to minimize the harm to the land and people of La Plata County. Here is my list of requests:
1. The Forest Service should select Alternative 4 because it would maximize the land available to people and wildlife. The total land taken by Tamarron is slightly less than with Alternative 2 (the alternative currently preferred by the Forest Serviceâ€”and Tamarron).
2. The Forest Service could make the land available to Tamarron smaller, providing a wider buffer from the Chris Park Campground.
3. The emergency access road and parking lot proposed in Alternative 2 would seriously interfere with the Rapp Corral business. The additional road would be detrimental to wildlife, is not needed and should not be built.
4. It is important to make sure that the present Chris Park Road is not used for routine access to Tamarron, although it could be used for emergencies when not snow-covered. It is especially important to me that this road not be cleared of snow in the winter. My wife and I support Durango Nature Studies, which takes hundreds of school kids on snowshoes each winter on this road. We teach them about life in the cold with the â€œSurviving and Thriving in Winterâ€ program. The Chris Park Road needs to have a locked barrier where it connects to Tamarron; traffic will interfere with this important use of the Forest.
5. The land swap plan provides for replacement of current trails that will be on Tamarron land. We need a guarantee that the new trails will be completed within a year.
I encourage readers to contact the Forest Service with their opinions about the proposed land swap. This is an important matter and our opinions can change the end result.