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Could Eagle County's greatest open-space glory come in the form of Ginn's Battle Mountain parcel?
At a June 10 dedication ceremony for the Eagle River Preserve: (left to right) Arn Menconi, Sara Fisher, Mike Eaton, Tom Edwards, Ellen Eaton, Jen Wright, Peter Runyon and Ceil Folz.
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Could Eagle County's greatest open-space glory come in the form of Ginn's Battle Mountain parcel?

By David O. Williams

June 22, 2009 —  The 72-acre Eagle River Preserve in Edwards is an astounding piece of public park land close to the heart of downtown Edwards and along the banks of the Eagle River that to me represents the very best aspects of Eagle County’s now 7-year-old open space preservation program.

Others, including editorial writers at the Vail Daily, bitterly disagreed. The decision to spend nearly $6 million from Eagle County’s open space tax fund fueled a nasty debate, but the Vail Valley Foundation did a magnificent job of selling the public benefit and rounding up the rest of the funds needed for the $12 million purchase of Eaton Ranch.

In a story in Sunday’s Vail Daily, veteran local reporter Kathy Heicher does an excellent job of breaking down the open space property tax passed by 51 votes in 2002, and the 4,106 acres of land preserved by the $20 million that tax has raised. The tax is 1.5 mills, or about $12 per $100,000 of assessed property value.

I voted for the tax back then, I’ve paid my fair share of the tax since then, and for the most part I’ve agreed with the way those funds have been spent. But the Eagle River Preserve was by far the best use of those funds. It’s accessible, beautiful and open to the public … and my kids actually robbed their piggybanks to help preserve it.

Another story that caught my eye in the Sunday papers was Jason Blevins’ piece on the Ginn Company’s proposed Battle Mountain project in the Denver Post. The story repeats a lot of the questions that have been circulating for months concerning the viability of the private ski and golf community near Minturn and off the backside of Vail Mountain.

But what’s really interesting is the sense of disappointment from Minturn residents who feel Ginn promised them the world but has delivered very little to the town that for so long has struggled to find funds for basic infrastructure improvements. Thing is, most of those promises were made well before the economic collapse globally and the real estate collapse locally. Ginn has no buyers, either in Florida or Colorado.

Their disappointment is akin to what I felt when Ginn bought 5,300 acres of the Gilman Tract in 2005 for $32.75 million. Up until then I had hoped a developer could put together a deal to preserve the vast majority of that acreage in a conservation easement while putting homes and commercial on the more accessible and least polluted (with mine tailings) acres.

The largest tract of private land in the upper reaches of the Vail Valley has been the center of controversy for years, first for its role in the ski company’s Blue Sky Basin ski expansion and the eco-terrorism arson fires that resulted from that development, then in a series of complicated lawsuits stemming from conflicting plans for the land.

Ten years ago I wrote a story for the Vail Trail revealing that Vail Resorts wanted to preserve most of the land in a conservation easement and that the Eagle Valley Land Trust and the U.S. Forest Service were obviously very interested in that possibility.

The ski company’s partners in the property filed suit saying they wanted to aggressively develop the land. They ultimately won, and then turned around and sold to Ginn. See the timeline with’s 2008 story on the project for more details.

Opportunity was lost at the time. I wonder now if that opportunity has risen from the dead. If this community can raise $20 million to preserve 4,100 acres over the last seven years, could we dedicate the nearly $10 million in the current open space tax fund to a purchase deal for that land, coupling it with private funds and perhaps some additional money from a developer who might be interested in the best, most accessible parts of the parcel?

And would Ginn be willing to listen, especially given the current economic situation and the legal and financial mess facing the company’s properties in Florida? It is certainly a question worth asking, and a deal worth pursuing if there’s even the slightest possibility.

Meanwhile, Minturn needs to finally face the music and resign itself to overpriced funkiness in the shadow of Vail and Beaver Creek, or un-incorporate and start soaking from the public trough that Edwards has grown fat and happy off of for the past decade.



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