For the week of September 30 thru October 6, 1998  

What’s at the other end of Owl Rock Road?

Four homes planned for the quiet canyon


30owl1.gif (6585 bytes)This is a view of Owl Rock Road cut from Clear Creek Canyon as it begins its drop down to State Highway 75. (Express photos by Alyson Wilson)

The bright fall sun lighted Heidi Baldwin’s old, white Suburban bumping and rattling over the deep hillside cut dubbed Owl Rock Road. The bucolic Clear Creek Canyon to which the road leads is the planned site for four homes on a 103-acre chunk of state land about two miles south of Ketchum.

Named after a nearby rock outcropping said to be shaped like the raptor, the private road lies just south of the new St. Luke’s hospital site.

The project has been a source of legal and political turmoil ever since Baldwin arranged a complex deal with the state of Idaho in which she would get two of the lots and the state would receive a potential couple million dollars for its School Endowment Fund through the sale of the two others.

But development of that land meant construction of a major road across a hillside in a scenic view corridor west of the highway. That was a problem in a county trying hard to maintain its scenic values in an era of rampant development.

Owl Rock Road appears crude today and startles even Baldwin by its noticeable rubble cutting across the hill. She claims this won’t be so for long.

"You’ll never see this road when it’s done," Baldwin contended. "Anywhere you can see the road from the highway, there’s going to be native landscaping covering it."

On Monday, Oct. 13, Baldwin will appear before the Blaine County Commissioners to apply for a permit to build her Clear Creek subdivision at the end of the road. The subdivision may not be as controversial as the road has been.

"I don’t think there will be a lot of issues because the number of lots has been agreed to and the road has been agreed to," said Blaine County Commissioner Len Harlig.

That agreement was the culmination of a court battle stemming from the county’s initial objection to the road’s construction, which began in May 1991.

Clear Creek Canyon neighbors fought against Owl Rock Road as well. Gene and Polly Biedebach, who own the only other road up the draw, led the charge under the aegis of preservationist interests they claimed should have superceded Baldwin’s deal with the state.

The county had ordered the road construction temporarily halted while it drew up guidelines for hillside development, and later turned down Baldwin’s project on the grounds it violated the new ordinances.

The state of Idaho joined Baldwin to fight for approval of the road in court. The litigants finally settled out of court last April. The deal goes something like this:

In return for its acquiescence to the project, the county was assured the 683-acre parcel would be divided into only four lots. Two of those lots would go to Baldwin and the other two would be sold by the state.

The proceeds of the latter two lots will go to the School Endowment Fund.

According to Baldwin’s subdivision application, the four lots are worth a total of $10 million. Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa said in an interview that the parcel currently earns the state’s School Endowment Fund less than $200 yearly from inactive mineral and geothermal leases.

In return for her lots, Baldwin has invested well over $1 million in the 0.85-mile road, Cenarrusa said. Baldwin has also given the state a 40-acre mining claim in the Boulder Mountains north of Ketchum.

"Those lots, they’re beautiful, they’re just beautiful," Cenarrusa said, adding that they’ll fetch a "fortune."

He said they may be sold at auction during one of Allen and Company’s business-mogul-laden summer gatherings at Sun Valley.

Two weeks ago, Baldwin, accompanied by a bashful Bernese mountain dog, walked over the grassy land and acknowledged that after all the controversy and protests, after all the years, there’s still much work to be done.

Crews will try to wrap up construction on the gravel drive before winter’s coming snow halts their progress, Baldwin said.

And then there’s the subdivision.

Baldwin described strict property-owner regulations, including required design review by other homeowners any time a tree with more than a three-inch base diameter is to be cut. Building envelope locations will totally mask each residence from the others and especially from Highway 75.

"I want this subdivision to be such a high-integrity subdivision," she said.

And considering the state owns 683 acres, many more residences could have been proposed.

"I thought we should try to maximize the value and minimize the impact on the land," Baldwin said. "I urged the state to do it this way."

She said non-motorized traffic, including pedestrians, equestrians and mountain bikers, will be allowed to use the Owl Rock private road, which leads to public lands beyond.

Baldwin said she knows there are obstacles that will have to be moderated in the subdivision hearing.

A small high-avalanche danger zone was said to have "low risk" associated with the area slated for development, according to a letter from an avalanche-control engineer from Gunnison, Colo.

There is also the matter of possible interference with wildlife habitats and migration, raised by Idaho Fish and Game regional supervisor Carl Nellis.

Baldwin must also apply for a stream-alteration permit to construct a private driveway over a bridge crossing Clear Creek.

Regardless, Baldwin remains optimistic.

"Before, whenever things got rough, I would come up here and remember why it was all worth it, for my kids, for the schools," she said, standing on the hilly, evergreen-shaded terrain planned for her own home. "Now I just think, ‘We’re getting close.’"


 Back to Front Page
Copyright 1998 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.