By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
Several dozen valley residents turned up at Pitkin County’s open house on March 30 at Basalt Town Hall, eager to learn more about and contribute ideas to the county’s plans for the property known as the Emma Townsite and Emma Open Space.
The open house was called to gather public input about how to approach management of the roughly 72-acre property, which actually comprises two distinct areas straddling Highway 82 near where it crosses over the Roaring Fork River west of Basalt.
According to the web site managed by Pitkin County Open Space & Trails (OS&T), the public comment period on the Emma management plan remains open until April 7.
Then, a draft plan representing staff-created concepts and public input is to be presented to the OS&T Board of Trustees on April 20.
After that, depending on the contents of the draft management plan, the county expects to hold additional open-house events to gather more public input.
The property, most of which was in agricultural production starting in the late 1800s and continuing into the 1900s, currently contains:
• Roughly 64 acres of primarily agricultural lands on the south side of the highway, purchased in 2000 by the county in partnership with several other agencies. That portion of the overall land has been split into three sections, current under three separate agricultural leases;
• The old Emma Store building and historic Mather house, both situated on the north side of the highway on about 12 acres of land purchased by the county in 2008.
According to the OS&T website (www.pitkinostprojects.com), “Together the properties create an important habitat connection between federal lands, linking the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Light Hill parcel to the south with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) Lake Christine State Wildlife Area to the north.”
In addition to management of about 43 acres of productive agricultural land, the county has been working to restore the structural integrity of the old Emma Store buildings, which were in a state of advanced deterioration when they were acquired by OS&T in 2008.
The Mather house, which dates back to 1898 and was built by Charles Mather along with the store, is in relatively good shape and continues to be occupied by tenants leasing the home from the county.
The property also contains numerous heritage fruit trees, ranging from 35 to 120 years old, according to the county, which added that volunteers have been pruning the trees to improve their health.
At the open house, according to OS&T planning and outreach manager Lindsey Utter, much of the feedback concerned continued leasing of the open-space properties for agricultural production.
“We heard a lot of support for the leasing,” she said, noting that the Emma project “is a project that captures everything OS&T does.”
Besides the interest in the agricultural property, Utter said, there were suggestions about how to use the Emma Store buildings, which ranged from offering educational seminars in local food production to classes in saddle-making, “just things that are lost arts in some way.”
She said the county expects to set up a steering committee — including members of the public as well as county staff and perhaps OS&T board members — to work on how best to use the buildings, as well as how to manage the heritage-fruit orchard adjacent to the historic buildings.