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The sale of over a thousand acres in Rico is raising questions about development versus conservation

The town of Rico, Colorado.
Ken Lund
The town of Rico, Colorado.

A large swath of land outside Rico could become a hot springs resort, or maybe protected open space. From partner station KOTO in Telluride, Julia Caulfield has more on a new conversation coming before the community.

The property in question is 1146 acres over 181 parcels in and around Rico. It's currently listed by Telluride-based boutique real estate firm Telluride Properties. The asking price: $10 million. It also says the land could be perfect to develop into a hot springs resort. According to Rico town manager Chauncey McCarthy, the town has not received any interest from potential buyers.

Conservation is also an option for the land. The town of Rico is considering working with two nonprofits, the Montezuma Land Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land. Patrick Gardner with the Trust for Public Land says he realizes the potential outcome for this property could have some serious impacts to the town. Gardner and Travis Custer, Executive Director of the Montezuma Land Conservancy, are proposing that they may try to acquire the land and conserve it instead.

"We want to make sure that everyone understands we're not trying to come in and control what happened to the property or you know, what the conservation outcome would look like," said Gardner. "That's something we want the community to be a part of. We don't want to come in and, and kind of tell everybody what to do. We want to listen to what everyone is thinking about the property and and try and craft some kind of conservation project around what the community's vision for the future of Rico is."

Gardner adds that conserving the land doesn't mean it can't be used for development.

"Conservation easements can have quite a bit of flexibility, but in general, can be looking to protect open space, conservation values, public access," he said. "So things like recreational trail systems, open space, wildlife habitat, natural resource protections - those are all part of it. I think we're also interested in exploring other community-based outcomes and could include affordable housing or other dimensions besides just strictly conservation."

If the town moves forward with conservation, Gardner and Custer note the Trust for Public Land and Montezuma Land Conservancy would assist in fundraising efforts and management of the easement. Next steps include meeting with the community to see where priorities stand likely in May, and getting an appraisal on the property.

Corrected: May 4, 2022 at 4:13 PM MDT
A previous version of this article said "the town of Rico is considering turning over 1000 acres of land into a conservation easement." That is incorrect. The town does not own the land but could work with owners of the land on conservation. The previous version also misspelled Patrick Gardner's name and wrongly attributed one of his quotes. These have been corrected in the current article.
Lucas is the News Director for KSJD Community Radio. His work focuses on serving the public of the Four Corners with responsible, factual reporting.