Some 90,000 people annually use parts of the Rio Grande Trail, and most of them pass by land conserved through Aspen Valley Land Trust. From busy Henry Stein Park, owned by AVLT since 1972, to the Jackson Ranch on the edge of Glenwood Springs, over 17 percent of the popular trail passes through or by more than 1,200 acres of AVLT-conserved land. Another 3,400 acres of conserved land is easily visible to hikers and bikers along the trail.
A New Chapter for Historic Ranch
The Wheatley Homestead – covering 263 acres of meadows and ruddy hillsides at the mouth of Snowmass Canyon – was first ranched in 1899. At the time there was no Highway 82, no Lower River Road, and the beloved Rio Grande Trail, which runs through the heart of property, was still a railroad. Peter and Janneli Dart acquired the ranch in 1960 and, along with their children, Mari, J, Paul and Will, made the monumental decision to protect it forever in 1997 by granting a conservation easement to AVLT and Pitkin County. Despite the protections of the easement, changes continued to unfold – from the four-laning of Highway 82 to the construction of the Rio Grande Trail, which drastically increased visitation to this area. Additionally, public fishing access was provided along the Roaring Fork and Wheatley Gulch was opened to hikers.
On January 7, Pitkin County purchased the west 105 acres of the property to better steward the public fishing access on the Roaring Fork and hiking in Wheatley Gulch, and eliminate the potential for a massive house in the meadow. Meanwhile, AVLT continues to hold conservation easements over the entire property, and the Dart family still owns 158 acres including the historic Wheatley Schoolhouse and Arbaney farmhouse. They have listed the parcel for sale with the knowledge that the easement will continue to protect its important habitat, ranching history, and scenic views that dominate the Snowmass Canyon stretch of the Rio Grande Trail.