Friday, July 6, 2007

Land trust secures Della Mountain property

Complex land swap is years in the making

Express Staff Writer

Map courtesy of the Wood River Land Trust This map shows the 80-acre parcel that Hailey-based Wood River Land Trust will receive later this month from the Idaho Department of Lands. The parcel includes a significant cottonwood forest, a one-half mile stretch of the Big Wood River and steep terrain on the east side of Della Mountain, the rocky high point that dominates Hailey?s western horizon.

In the business of protecting undeveloped public and private lands, patience can often be a virtue.

A perfect example is a complex land swap proposal by the Hailey-based Wood River Land Trust in December 2005, under which it would take ownership of a landmark property owned by the Idaho Department of Lands in the Della Mountain area west of Hailey in exchange for a smaller private parcel northeast of Hailey.

On Thursday, Heather Kimmel, the land trust's program and membership coordinator, confirmed the pending completion of the deal.

"It's been a long time coming," Kimmel said.

In exchange for handing over to the Department of Lands a 4.6-acre lot in the Indian Creek area, the land trust later this month will receive two separate parcels of land totaling 120 acres, Kimmel said. A full 80 acres of the newly acquired lands will be added to the land trust's existing 4.5-acre Cedar Bend Preserve, located in southwest Hailey on the eastern shore of the Big Wood River.

Kimmel said the deal will be completed later this month.

The exchange will permanently preserve from development a one-half acre stretch of the Big Wood River and a significant cottonwood forest between Cedar Bend and Lions Park in Hailey. A portion of the state land also covers the lower eastern slopes of Della Mountain.

The newly enlarged preserve, which will be renamed the Draper Wood River Preserve, will cover both sides of the Big Wood. Several undesignated trails that wind through the cottonwood forest on the east side of the river will also be protected under the deal.

The new name of the preserve recognizes the significant monetary gift that Wood River Valley residents Priscilla and Ranney Draper gave to the land trust, making the purchase of the Indian Creek lot possible, Kimmel said. Further making the exchange possible was the sale of the Indian Creek lot at a bargain rate by Bruce Smith, owner of Alpine Enterprises, she said.

The state property has been on the land trust's wish list for a number of years, said land trust Executive Director Scott Boettger.

"Since I started over 10 years ago, we have been working to find a way to protect it for the community, for the river's health and for wildlife habitat," Boettger said.

Moose, elk, deer, river otter and a variety of birds are commonly seen in the area.

"The wildlife habitat is really incredible," Kimmel said.

In addition to the 80 acres added to the existing Cedar Bend Preserve, the land trust will also receive another 40 acres of Department of Lands property. The parcel is located about a quarter-mile south of the 80-acre parcel on the west side of the Big Wood River and just north of Colorado Gulch.

The additional 40 acres was added to the exchange after an appraisal by the Department of Lands indicated the value of the 80-acre parcel was not comparable to the 4.6-acre Indian Creek lot, Kimmel said.

The Department of Lands manages land for the purpose of generating revenue for the state's schools. Because of its charter, the department is not able to make discounted trades or bargain sales of land. Therefore, finding land at a comparable value for trade was essential to the transaction's success, a press release from the land trust states.

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