Big Thompson Update from 4/12 meeting

March 9, 2011

 
 
 At the March 8, 2011 meeting of the Larimer County Parks Advisory Board, the Board indicated it wants to keep the conservation easement option in its "toolbox" but that it might not necessarily pursue such option.    In addition,  a landowner adjacent to the Narrows property urged the COunty to sell their river access that is on the north side of the river and west of the west boundary {that is on the south side at Narrows].  Most anglers do not know that piece of river belongs to the County because the area is posted as private land!  
 
The County will continue to take public input until the next meeting on April 12. Send comments to the Larimer County Parks Advisory Board at gbuffington@larimer.org
 
 Earlier update [before March 8 meeting] - but still current as Board will accept comments until the April 12 meeting of the Parks Advisory Board.
The March 1 letter by the Friends of the Big Thompson to the Parks Advisory Board is reprinted below. CWF is a member of the Friends.  
 
March 1, 2011  
On behalf of the FRIENDS OF THE BIG THOMPSON RIVER we would like to first thank you for the opportunity to comment upon the 3 properties currently under consideration for retention/disposal. FRIENDS  consists of the the Colorado Wildlife Federation, The Loveland Fishing Club, Rocky Mountain Flycasters (northern Colorado TU group), 4 angling businesses, and many individual members.  Before getting into the details of each property, we would like to provide some comments about retention of angling access via easements, since that option is apparently being considered for some or all of the remaining angling access properties.
 
As the management saying goes, there are two parts to making a sound decision: first, do the right thing and then in terms of implementation, do it right.  We applaud you for doing the right thing - retaining fishing access to the remaining properties recommended by the Loveland Fishing Club and endorsed by FRIENDS.  However, we have grave concerns with implementing this decision via creating public easements on private property.  In fact, this option was discussed with the Drake properties and rejected in favor of the County retaining fee title to the river segments.  This was a win-win for landowners and anglers.  So, it is particularly distressing to now see a win-lose proposal on the table for the remaining angling areas.
 
We certainly acknowledge that the easement approach has merit in some situations. For example, it works well for maintaining open space and habitat via conservation easements.  It can even work for recreation where the public use will be low and the land values are low, e.g., on a large ranch  where the money obtained by the rancher may allow him to stay in business.
 
However, FRIENDS has members with public easement management experience, and we can advise that easements frequently turn into disasters when there is high land values and high public use.  The fundamental problem is that landowners suddenly 'own' the land and the public easement easily becomes a problem to them. Certainly, in these situations the interests of the landowners and the public are not the same -- thus the inherent conflict.  This frequently becomes really focused as time passes with landowner changes.  The new landowners certainly have no attachment to the creation of the easement and stand to make substantial profits if the easement is voided.  Especially when the land is worth over $1 million dollars per mile without the easement.  To make matters even worse, as time passes it is very difficult for the public to even know about the details of the easement, since it is only a deed restriction on a piece of private land.  In fact, it is common for the agency managing the  easement to lose track of it as personnel change over time.
 
Certainly with the 'win-lose' element inherent in public easements on private land, the county can expect to nee to devote substantial time to manage the situation.  From the angling perspective, we are very doubtful that the County will be able to do this well.  The track record is certainly not there for these properties.  In fact, currently at the Narrows property the river owned by the County on the northwest side is posted with 2 signs indicating that it is private property.  So, management appears to be a challenge now with fee title ownership and will only get harder with the easement 'conflict' approach.
 
The bottom line is that these properties are currently owned by the County and that makes angling access much more secure for the future than easements on private land.  Think what would happen with public reaction if the US Forest Service and BLM decided to sell their lands and just keep a public access easement to save some survey costs.  There is really no difference with the public County recreation lands.  So, we strongly encourage you to reject the easement approach and stick with the win-win solution you used at Drake for some of the remaining properties.  We acknowledge that this may cost more for some surveys, but this is minor compared to the current value of the river access/river frontage, and this asset will only increase in value for you in the future.  Also, in your January Parks Advisory meeting your staff indicated that you have many parcels yet to be sold that will generate the necessary funds for the management of the one you retain.  That is why we have always supported the concept of selling about half the lands and keeping about half along the river - the project needs to be viewed in the whole and not piece by piece.  Additionally, we would like to stress that the 'Drake' solution may not be appropriate for all the remaining angling access areas.  In some cases it may be more appropriate to retain fee title in a status quo mode.  
 
Now we would like to address the specific 3 properties under consideration, starting with the Narrows property.  We think this situation has real potential to develop a strong win-win for anglers and landowners with a bit of extra work and creativity.  You could use some of the assets obtained from the sale or trade of the land north of the river to obtain the north half of the river along the east half of the Narrows property outlined in yellow.  Apparently the person who owns the north half of the river on the east half of the Narrows has not objected to the public fishing, so this is the ideal time to purchase or trade for that asset.  That would establish a stable access situation for the future.
 
We also recommend that you keep all your existing river holdings at this location in fee title with a strip of land delineated on the north bank for angler access as you did at Drake.  The river segment west of the Narrows land outlined in yellow would need strong signing to advise anglers to stay within the north half of the river and this would likely require some enforcement work.
 
The next consideration is the land west of Indian Village.  If you feel you must sell the .3 acre parcel outlined in yellow on your map, then we would ask you to retain a strip of land along the parcel for angler access. It seems that it would even be reasonable to ask the landowner to pay for the survey work if it is needed, since he is the one who would benefit from the sale.
 
We recognize that the Bartels parcels does contain some fishable water on the North Fork. However, we also recognize that it lacks reasonable public parking potential and the bank is particularly steep along the road.  For these reasons, we did not include it on our original list of properties recommended for angling retention. So, we are sticking with our original recommendations and do not have concerns with you selling this parcel.
 
We have some members who have raised the question of who decides who is eligible to bid on the properties and who sets the sale price?  There is interest in bidding on the properties and this would obviously maximize the money received from the sales.  So, perhaps you can again review this aspect in a Board Meeting?
 
In conclusion we urge you not to implement the 'Solomon cut the baby in half ' easement proposal that satisfies neither anglers nor landowners.  Alternatively, we hope you will stick with the win-win approach that you already  established at Drake - especially after all the effort by many folks to make it work, or in some cases keep the status quo as a solution for angling access.  We also hope you will consider our specific recommendations for the 3 areas under review.  We again thank you for the opportunity to provide input and certainly appreciate the actions you have taken to date on behalf of anglers. 
 
Respectfully,
FRIENDS OF THE BIG THOMPSON RIVER
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Earlier Update: January 12, 2011:   At the January 11, 2011 meeting of the Larimer Parks Advisory Board, a decision was reached to sell 6 parcels along the Big Thompson River with a condition that these parcels continue to be open for public fishing.  We understand that if the prospective purchasers refuse to agree to this condition, the parcels will not be sold. Priority areas to Friends of the Big Thompson, The Loveland Fishing Club and Colorado Wildlife Federation are an area along Glen Haven Road and an area that is upstream of the Big Thompson Elementary School.   We all will watch closely!
 
Update: Nov. 22, 2010.  Larimer County still has failed to decide whether they will preserve access to some parcels along the Big Thompson and North Fork.  If you want to help in this effort, send an email to Gary Buffington at  gbuffington@larimer.org  Indicate your desire that the County complete the disposal review process in a timely manner and to retain all of the properties that offer reasonable fishing access  Also, ask Gary to provide your request to the members of the Larimer County Parks Advisory Board. 
 
As a refresher, the Loveland Fishing Club, Friends of the Big Thompson River and CWF recommended in 2005 retention of public access to 12 areas on the County's potential disposal iist.  As of now, the areas that have not been addressed are Area 3 west of Loveland, 12b east of the bridge at Drake, Area 17 in the catch and release areas, and on the North Fork the large east parcel of Area 20 and another day use area.  As there has not been a formal response from the County as to these parcels, we do not know whether it intends to retain public access to them.  In a letter dated June 16, 2010, Walt Graul requested clarification on behalf of the Loveland Fishing Club and Friends of the Big Thompson.  Walt also serves as CWF's Co-Chair of the Issues Committee. 
 
 On November 9, 2010, Walt  wrote the following to Larimer County Parks Department representative Gary Buffington:
 
"The last set of decisions at a Parks Advisory Board meeting on what parcels on the Big Thompson list to retain or sell was during the spring of 2009. “At your October 2009 Parks Board meeting I was told to expect to see things start happening again early in 2010. Although we know that logistical actions have taken place, the basic background regarding the potential disposal list of properties was apparently removed from your website many, many months ago. So, this has resulted in a sustained lack of information for the folks that have an interest in this project that started in 2005 relative to public participation. Last June the Loveland Fishing Club sent you a petition with 200 signatures. When we met last July per your request, Jim Roode [Loveland Fishing Club] and I were encouraged by the tone of the meeting and left anticipating that things would get moving again at the Parks Advisory Board level. However, nothing visible to the public has happened at the Board level since our meeting. We know that your staff has been very busy with other issues, such as Carter Lake, but we need to be able to report to many folks on any progress, or lack thereof, on the Big Thompson.
In view of the above, we would like to request that at a Parks Advisory Board meeting in the near future you outline the anticipated course of action with a timetable that leads to the conclusion of this project. Also, we would like to request that you then include some regular reporting on the status of the Big Thompson disposal project at the Parks Board meetings – just as you do for many other issues/topics. Perhaps this could be done at least every two or three months? We think these two actions would be very positive actions to benefit all the public members with an interest in this topic. Finally, we ask that you distribute this email to the Parks Advisory Board members so that they all know we still have an intense interest and focus on this long-term project. Also, we anticipate that some new Board members may not even be aware of the full history of this project.
 
We would greatly appreciate a timely response to our requests."
 
 
On November 10, 2010, Walt received this response from Gary Buffington:
"Thank you for your follow up email reminder regarding our intentions to move forward with some actions regarding decisions on the flood properties on the Big Thompson River. I will be meeting with our advisory board chair Linda Knowlton and will schedule it on our next Parks Advisory Board meeting agenda so that we can bring the public and one new board member up to date on the project. I know that Charlie Johnson has been doing some work with some adjacent landowners this summer and he will be able to report on that progress at the next meeting. We will also get the website updated when we have more accurate information to report.
 
I will distribute your letter to the Advisory Board to let them know of your continued interest. For clarification, does this letter also represent the Loveland Fishing Club interests? Thank you again for your interest in this important Department of Natural Resources initiated project that has produced more fishing access to the Big Thompson in more than 34 years."
 
The Loveland Fishing Club promptly responded that my letter does represent their interests. Colorado Wildlife Federation also confirmed that it represents its interests, too.
 
 
Big Thompson River Access Update
Walt Graul, CWF Board & Co-Chair of Issues Committee; Founder of Friends of the Big Thompson River

Drake Transactions Completed !

April 1, 2010  Larimer County now will allow the public to access both sides of the Big Thompson River.  Anglers and those who want to have a picnic can set foot on the 800-foot section of the river near the Hayden subdivision.  An angler may walk across the bridge at the east end of the property and enter the river at the bridge.  There is public access to the middle of the river for a small stretch.  Essentially, what the public has gained is a substantial portion of the river -- which had been blocked by 2 parcels of private land that extended into the river. We understand, though, that the County has sold 13 parcels to adjacent property owners in the Hayden area for $33,087.  The County intends to erect clear signage to avoid trespass problems. 

The Loveland Fishing Club has adopted the Sleepy Hollow property. It receives much use and has picnic tables.

Next: We are hopeful that the County will address the other areas soon.  Walt and Friends of the Big Thompson have made a recommendation on what to focus upon next.   We will keep you posted.  This is a long process.

 

May 13, 2009 -- [ yes this was awhile ago -- things move very slowly on this subject]

Previously, Larimer County had agreed to retain 6 areas and a key set of parcels in another area on the North Fork of the Thompson.   Now the County has agreed to retain approximately 700 feet of river at Drake, with a buffer strip to the east side.   As adjacent landowners wanted all of land, including river bottom, we alll have succeeded in preserving a substantial amount of river access. 

This is not the end.  There are two areas on the North Fork and three on the main river that are on the original recommendations for retention by the County.  Please remain focused on this matter, even though it is a very long process.  We will inform which areas the County focuses on next for potential sale.

 

Background as of April 14 [preceding the decision reached above] -- The Larimer County Parks Advisory Board held its meeting on April 14 and made recommendations to the County Commissioners. The Board discussed the following three alternatives issued by the County. Alternative 1 is a walk-in access strip that would connect to a buffer strip that is 5-10 feet wide along the side of the river opposite the highway. Alternative 2 would allow public access to the buffer strip and the only way to reach it is to wade the river from the highway side. Alternative 3 would allow anglers to access the river only from the highway side; they then must remain in the river – that means not step out onto the other side. Interestingly, there is no status quo alternative, i.e., retain County ownership of all the land at this site. Friends Of The Big Thompson River provided written and verbal input. Friends indicated that some members feel strongly that the County should keep all the land, post it properly and maintain it. Alternative 1 offers strong appeal for the public. However, Friends even said that if it would truly help resolve the issue with the local landowners, they would reluctantly support Alternative 2.Alternative 3 is totally unacceptable, considering that the land was purchased with federal funds and recreation was to be a highlight. On a 5-3 vote, the Board decided to recommend Alternative 2. The actual wording creates the setback on the east side of the river and there will be a two strand fence to designate it. It will only be accessible by wading the river. However, the motion also included two amendments. First, the County is instructed to pursue another access point via the two parcels on the east side of the river adjacent to the bridge. These two parcels remain public access until 2018. So, if the County can reach an agreement with a couple of landowners to let anglers pass through their river portion, then a person could enter by the bridge and wade the entire area.  Also, they accepted my suggestion to include a statement in the motion that the Board intent is to have the public land remain public in perpetuity. As of this writing, we do not know when the County Commissioners will consider the matter. On March 31, Channel 9 News aired a segment on the controversy on their 6pm news. So, interest is growing. I have now recorded 41 newspaper articles on this subject since January 2008. Although most articles have appeared in the Loveland paper, the Denver Post and Fort Collins Coloradan have also covered the issue.

 
Note: CWF has filed its comments at various stages of the process.  CWF was disappointed and concerned that none of the alternatives presents the current opportunity to retain the properties in public ownership and maintain them --with the assistance offered by numerous volunteers, including our organization. As fishing access is diminishing at an alarming rate, the value of these parcels to the public is increasing markedly.
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