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Land once discussed for a Pikes Peak ski resort could go to Forest Service in swap with Broadmoor 

Taking a powder

The Broadmoor hotel has put together a sweet deal in an effort to acquire land underlying its latest guest property, the Ranch at Emerald Valley. It's a trade: If the U.S. Forest Service gives up those 64 acres, the Broadmoor will give the Forest Service its 320 acres within Pike National Forest, plus offer a permanent easement for land abutting the heavily used Barr Trail.

The bottom line for the public: the seemingly permanent end to talk of a ski resort on the west side of Pikes Peak, and potentially an alternate route to the summit of Pikes Peak.

Broadmoor CEO Steve Bartolin says it's a win-win. "I don't know why anybody could not be in favor of it," he says.

El Paso County commissioners are already on board, having sent a Jan. 14 letter of unanimous support to Pike National Forest supervisor Jerri Marr. In it, they write the Broadmoor's efforts to improve Emerald Valley would bring "enhanced tourism for our region."

The Forest Service is expected within days to announce whether it will entertain the request. If it does, the swap will undergo an 18-month examination that would include an environmental study and public comment.

'Fantastic deal'

The Broadmoor has owned those 320 acres on Pikes Peak for mere months; it bought the land in September for $1.3 million from Buck Blessing, a Colorado Springs real estate investor. South of The Crags hiking area, the parcel is surrounded by national forest and includes land discussed as part of the Ring the Peak Trail, a 63-mile path that circumnavigates Pikes Peak and is 80 percent complete.

Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition, says her group hasn't officially endorsed the exchange but does support a robust public process to determine whether the deal should go through. "When you look at what the trade is in terms of acreage and conservation and recreational opportunities," she says, "it seems like a great swap."

Todd Robertson, a principal with Western Land Group, which facilitates real estate transactions with the federal government, goes even further. "It's a fantastic deal for the public," says Robertson, hired by The Broadmoor to shepherd the deal. "The Crags property has been the top acquisition priority for the Pikes Peak Ranger District for at least a decade."

The land is bordered on three sides by the Pikes Peak West Roadless Area. And a corner of it is projected to host part of the Ring the Peak Trail, though Trails and Open Space Coalition advocacy director Bill Koerner says that area could use some further surveying.

If the Broadmoor property becomes public land, says Koerner, it opens up to hikers, cyclers and runners. An added benefit: The property also contains part of a trail that could connect Ring the Peak with the Pikes Peak summit.

As recently as 2012, the land was owned by developers wanting to establish a resort and ski area on it. The Pikes Peak Sierra Club, among others, expressed concerns, according to coverage by the Boulder Daily Camera. But a bankruptcy and one developer's death apparently made for bigger challenges.

The land came up for grabs and eventually led to the Broadmoor's purchase. But rather than a site for its own development, the Broadmoor sees the parcel as a bargaining chip as it angles to fully control the Ranch at Emerald Valley.

Simplify, simplify

Located about nine miles southwest of the Broadmoor resort, the ranch dates to 1904, when a church group leased the land and built a cabin. Broadmoor founder Spencer Penrose owned it in the 1920s and '30s. More buildings subsequently were added, and the improvements transferred through various owners before being purchased in 1982 by a couple who ran the camp as a tourist area until 2011.

In late 2012, The Broadmoor bought the improvements and pumped millions of dollars into buildings and grounds, opening in August 2013. The very next month, three-plus inches of rain pummeled the ranch, causing two timber crib dams to breach and flood the grounds. (The dams weren't on the state's radar until then, but Bartolin says they're being rebuilt under state and federal rules, and state engineers have approved their engineering.)

Emerald Valley is operated under a 20-year lease with the Forest Service that dictates which timber and vegetation can be moved or destroyed; where pesticides can be applied; and how wildlife habitat should be protected, among other environmental concerns. It also lists what activities are allowed, from fly fishing to volleyball. If the terms aren't met, the lease can be suspended or revoked. The Broadmoor also is required to provide the Forest Service with its operating plan.

Lease fees are computed based on "fair market value" and a "graduated rate fee system" that involves complicated reporting requirements on sales of food, services such as outfitters and guides, and liquor. The Forest Service calculates the bill, which also takes into account gross fixed assets owned by the resort.

Bartolin won't disclose how much the Broadmoor has paid under the lease, but he says it's well under $100,000 a year. The lease doesn't contain a specific dollar figure, and a chief component used to figure the lease payment was redacted from the lease when the Forest Service released it to the Independent in November in response to a Freedom of Information Request.

Considering the complicated nature of the lease and its oversight, Bartolin says the swap "makes our life simpler, and it makes the Forest Service folks' life simpler, and they get a higher-value piece of property" in exchange. "The people we work with at the Forest Service are good people and great stewards," he adds, "but this is cumbersome for them, too."

Long process

As for the smaller aspects of the deal:

• The Broadmoor offers to transfer to the Forest Service an easement that's 20 feet by 4,000 feet bordering six switchbacks of the Barr Trail west from the Cog Railway station. People use the property now, but it's actually held by The Broadmoor, and Bartolin says the Forest Service requested the easement to give the public permanent legal access.

• The Broadmoor would acquire a perpetual easement along Forest Service Road 371 from Old Stage Road to a half-mile west of Emerald Valley's entrance, and close motorized access on that last half-mile. In exchange, the resort would build a new trailhead and parking area where motorized use ends. "Hikers and pedestrian traffic will have continued access," Bartolin says via email.

Federal rules require all land exchanges to result in the public obtaining land of equal or greater value than what is given in exchange. Whether this deal will even be considered is entirely up to the Forest Service, Robertson says.

If Marr decides to consider the swap, the Forest Service would conduct a feasibility analysis, get land appraisals and conduct several public comment periods. In addition, the proposal would be subject to the National Environmental Policy Act, though it's unclear whether a lower-level Environmental Assessment (EA) or a more lengthy and complicated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) would be completed.

Regardless, Robertson says new NEPA regulations require the Forest Service to work with citizens who are opposed and "resolve those issues" before issuing a final decision, which might take a lot of time.

"We're at the very first stages of this," Robertson says. "It's not a done deal whatsoever. A good analogy may be we're just getting the train loaded up and started out of the station."

zubeck@csindy.com

  • Taking a powder

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