Forest's real estate urge goes year-round

 

The Gunnison National Forest in western Colorado is involved in another hot access question. The last access dispute - with developer Tom Chapman - resulted in a land trade that thus far has given Chapman a $2 million profit (HCN, 1/23/95). That trade was made over strenuous objections from residents of the ski town of Telluride.

Now, the ski town of Crested Butte, the Gunnison County commissioners, the Forest Service district ranger and numerous residents are objecting to Forest Supervisor Bob Storch's permit to a couple allowing them to plow open a county road to their home. The house sits at an elevation of 9,200 feet in an area that receives 200 inches of snow a year.

Storch argues that federal law requires that he allow the couple to plow open the road, which now is used for winter sports.

In the past, property owners and recreationists have traveled the area on skis, snowmobiles, sleds or snow cats, rather than by plowing winter trails, says Gunnison County Planning commission chairman Fred Holbrook.

Regional Forester Elizabeth Estill in Denver says Storch's permit to the couple, Judy and Craig Pauly, means the agency probably will not be able to deny similar requests in the future.

There are numerous inholdings on the West's national forests, and residents fear that now-closed winter roads will be opened, one by one.

Gary Sprung, president of the High Country Citizens Alliance, told Estill, "It is not the responsibility of government to maximize profit opportunities for individuals. Your job is protecting the public interest."

Storch defends the permit, saying his attorneys told him the Paulys would win in court. The responsibility, he says, lies with the state of Colorado, which has allowed land to be freely subdivided into 35-acre lots (the Paulys' home sits on such a lot), and with Gunnison County. He said the Forest Service would immediately hand over the Cement Creek Road to Gunnison County, and the county could then close the road, if it wanted to.

Storch also continues to defend the land trade with Chapman, in which the agency traded 110 acres of land near Telluride it appraised at $640,000 for a wilderness inholding elsewhere on the forest. Chapman has sold 70 acres of that land thus far for $2.7 million. Like Chapman's case, the Paulys' situation involves an inholding and almost unanimous opposition from the community.

Storch maintains that his hands were, and are, tied. "In both cases, I was following process."

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