A land exchange intended to protect access to Wilson Peak and allow the U.S. Forest Service to take over inholdings — private land held inside national forests — was finalized Thursday by the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest supervisor.
Forest Supervisor Scott Armentrout made no changes to the draft decision he announced in April. That deal will see Forest Service acquisition of 665 acres owned by Skyline Ranch Trust LLC, Alta Lakes LLC and the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit conservation group that purchases parcels under threat of development and arranges to turn them over to federal land managers.
In 2007, the Trust for Public Land purchased mining claims totaling 180 acres near the Lizard Head Wilderness as part of a deal to secure access to Wilson Peak, an iconic mountain in the Uncompahgre National Forest that rises to 14,017 feet.
In 2004, a private landowner purchased a parcel that included a section of the Silverpick Trail and closed access. With the Trust for Public Lands’ assistance, the Forest Service constructed the Rock of Ages Trail to restore access to Wilson Peak, famous for being featured on Coors beer cans.
The other parcels the Forest Service obtained are 262 acres along Boomerang Road near Alta, 163 acres at Yellow Mountain, southwest of Ophir, 21 acres in the Elk Creek drainage near the Lizard Head Wilderness and 39 acres adjacent to the La Garita Wilderness in Saguache County, federal land managers said.
In exchange, Skyline Ranch Trust LLC will receive two National Forest parcels adjacent to Skyline Ranch totaling 174 acres, Alta Lakes LLC will receive 87 acres in the Alta area, and the Trust for Public Land will receive 40 acres in Wilson Mesa.
“This decision is great news. It shows that collaboration can be successful between several parties where there is a common goal. In this case, the goal was improved public access and improved trails. I hope it proves to be a model for future land exchanges,” San Miguel County Commissioner Joan May said in a statement.
Wilson Peak is not the only 14er to have had access issues over the years. Culebra Peak, in the Sangre de Cristo range, is privately owned. All hikers who want to summit it must pay a fee to the ranch that owns it. Mt. Bross, in the Mosquito Range, is also privately owned, and hikers are not allowed on the summit.
The final terms of the Wilson Peak deal were the result of collaboration between the Forest Service, the San Miguel Bicycle Alliance, the Telluride Mountain Club and San Miguel County.
Four miles of trails will be closed or reclaimed as part of the deal, but 2.7 miles of new trails will be constructed, and 2.9 miles of existing trails in the Turkey Creek Mesa area will be added to the official National Forest system of trails. The Forest Service said the new and officially incorporated trails will help connect trails in the Telluride Ski Resort area to the Galloping Goose trail.
The land exchange transactions are slated to close in early November.
“I am pleased with the community support we received on this land exchange and I appreciate the community’s collaborative efforts to provide for an improved mountain bike trail system,” Armentrout said in a statement. “I look forward to closing on the land exchange transaction soon.”