Mountain News 

If you can’t see open space, is it still open?

Compiled by Allen Best

EAGLE, Colo. — If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

You’ve heard that question, and that was fundamentally the same question in Eagle County for the last two years as the citizenry loudly debated in the pages of the Vail Daily and elsewhere the virtues of acquiring a ranch at the entrance to Glenwood Canyon for open space.

The 4,830-acre ranch, owned by the long-time sheep-ranching Bair family, was part of a complicated package of land parcels and financing partners, ranging from private donors to the federal Bureau of Land Management. The land had been appraised at $17 million, but the various groups pooled $5.1 million. Eagle County’s $2 million was the deal-maker or breaker.

But not many residents of Eagle County – which includes Vail, Beaver Creek, and some suburbs of Aspen – will get to see all the land. The deal ensures only that nobody develops the ranch, although the ranch owner can expand his tourist business. But public access will be limited to only a small portion of the ranch, several hundred acres along the Colorado River. Driving by on I-70, people can see little of the ranch that is being preserved. There are no public roads to other areas of the ranch.

The land’s major value will be its wildlife habitat.

Opponents loudly denounced the deal, calling it welfare for the ranch owner and a poor use of the county’s new property tax, which generates $2.9 million annually for open space preservation.

A leading critic of the plan, County Commissioner Tom Stone, a Republican, said the money could be spent more wisely in acquiring land near where people can see it, use it, and where they now live, which is to say in the Avon-Edwards area, 35 to 45 miles to the east.

But in the end, the swing vote in favor came from Commissioner Michael Gallagher. Returning from the Mayo Clinic, where he was being treated for effects of Agent Orange from when he was in Vietnam 35 years ago, Gallagher stated his position with what observers said was both conviction and grace. "This is future-looking," he said.

Greens like the Terminator

SACREMENTO, Calif. — Environmentalists say they are pleasantly surprised with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Although they didn’t support him during last year’s recall campaign, a growing number of California environmental leaders say Schwarzenegger is apparently greener than they anticipated, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

They still grumble about Schwarzenegger’s fleet of gas-guzzling Hummers – he still owns four of them (down from seven), but is retrofitting one to run on hydrogen. But on issues from coast protection to staff appointments, from air pollution to water supply, Schwarzenegger has taken actions that environmentalists cautiously cheer.

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