Robert Frost, in his poem, "Mending Walls," artfully shaped the question of good neighbors. In Delta County, the debate is less peaceful.
The central characters are Bill Koch and Ed Marston, with plenty of other neighbors weighing in.
Marston left the crowded and well developed East years ago to build a career around writing and championing the value of the wide-open spaces and abundant public lands of the West.
Koch's corporate holdings include energy companies such as Oxbow Mining and Gunnison Energy, along with Bear Ranch near Paonia Reservoir in Gunnison County.
The two now find themselves neighbors. Bear Ranch has long been a working ranch, and is also being expanded into an exclusive, private getaway. When a proposed land swap between the federal government and Bear Ranch was announced, Marston railed that the public's interest was being shortchanged . . . and in his own back yard!
The initial land swap proposed an exchange of some 1,800 acres of federal land near Kebler Pass Road for around 911 acres near the Curecanti National Recreation Area near Blue Mesa Reservoir and 80 acres within Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. The exchange was introduced in legislation by Rep. John Salazar and was later withdrawn, buying time for locals to rally folks to their cause.
Frustrated by the lack of knowledge — and interest — by his neighbors in Delta County, Marston and others are campaigning to build support for their position. And thus a battle of wills is playing out between two "neighbors" adept at the game of public opinion.
Bear Ranch responded to criticisms by improving public access points to public land, enhancing opportunities for regional trails between Crested Butte and Carbondale, and sweetening the deal by adding access to Jumbo Mountain in Delta County. A small fortune has been spent in design and land acquisition, as well as an advertising campaign to build awareness of the jobs and other positive contributions to the neighborhood. Ranch managers have organized tours for select groups, showing them the land in question and the improvements being offered. In other words, they are working hard to make this a win-win situation.
The opposition has also organized tours in an attempt to show what they believe is being lost. They've also reached into their bag of tricks in attempts to discredit Bear Ranch. Last winter a Paonia couple crossed two closed gates to go snowshoeing. After pleading guilty to trespass, they turned to the media to discredit Bear Ranch. With claims of missing signs — refuted by Bear Ranch manager Rob Gill — the couple accused Bear Ranch as being unneighborly for enforcing their private property rights.
While this drama is simmering, another pot has been put on to brew as efforts ramp up to develop a new mine on Oak Mesa near Hotchkiss. It's flash point between reasonable energy development and environmental groups, so expect plenty of unfriendly battles to erupt.
People can't pick who their neighbors are. They can only hope they turn out to be good. Judging by their actions so far, I believe the folks at Bear Ranch, Gunnison Energy and Oxbow Mining are trying hard to be good neighbors.
—Randy Sunderlandblog comments powered by Disqus