The future of a river trail between Hailey and Colorado Gulch that has been used for generations, either by permission or by trespassing, will remain in question for the foreseeable future.
“There’s a great opportunity for us to link Colorado Gulch to Croy Canyon with unbroken public access,” Hailey Community Development Director Micah Austin said.
However, efforts to establish public access on the two-thirds-of-a-mile-long Colorado Gulch trail between Hailey’s Heagle Park and the Colorado Gulch bridge have stalled. The 175 acres of land surrounding it is for sale for $3.2 million.
“We couldn’t create a collective compromise that the landowner, the Wood River Land Trust or other groups would entertain,” said developer Jeff Pfaeffle, who represents property owner Grant Stevens.
Locals claim to have used the trail for many years, but Pfaeffle said Don Justice, the previous owner, claimed they cut his fences to do so and that he was unable to control trespassing on the land.
“When the Justices sold the property, they said they did not approve of the property being used,” Pfaeffle said. “They made it very clear that they did not allow the trespassing willingly.”
In 2010, Pfaeffle and Stevens were denied annexation of the property, known as Colorado Gulch Preserve, into the city. Stevens then made good on a promise to fence the property and keep out trespassers.
In 2011, there was an unsuccessful effort to have 22 acres on the bench above the river property belonging to the Stevens Family Ranch to be used for a 55-unit housing development, annexed into the city in exchange for public access to the low-lying property. However, the City Council unanimously expressed a desire to protect from development—and provide public access to—153 acres of cottonwood forest and river frontage that stretches from Heagle Park to Colorado Gulch.
“This is the most beautiful property out there that could benefit the city,” Councilwoman Martha Burke said at the time.
Pfaeffle succeeded in 2012 in getting City Councilwoman Carol Brown and representatives of the Wood River Land Trust and Blaine County Land, Water and Wildlife Levy Advisory Board to sit down and discuss the possibility of establishing public access to the property.
The Wood River Land Trust holds a conservation easement on the riverfront property, preserving all the land except one home site near the river from development, but an additional “access easement” would be required to develop and maintain the trail for public use, said Land Trust Executive Director Scott Boettger.
“We have wanted to do that for the last 15 years,” Boettger said. “It would be a continuation of the Hailey Greenway, from Lion’s Park through the Draper Preserve and Heagle Park.”
Boettger said Hailey’s recent decision to not entertain annexations until resolution of a court decision involving Old Cutters subdivision annexation fees “took the wind out of the sails” of talks with the developer over the trail access.
Pfaeffle said an offer was made to the Land Trust for a “discounted” sale of the riverfront portion of the property, but a counter-offer was refused by Stevens.
Pfaeffle said he intended to seek matching funds from the county Land, Water and Wildlife Levy Advisory Board, but did not get far enough in negotiations with the Land Trust to make an application.
With talks stalled, and the demand for new housing diminished, the trail will remain officially off-limits to the public.
“The reason it is up for sale is because everything is in limbo,” Pfaeffle said. “There hasn’t seemed to be any need for development for the last five years.”
Brown said in a recent interview that she hiked the trail more than 20 years ago, when it belonged to rancher and Harvard-trained economist Justice.
“He gave me permission,” said Brown, who works for the U.S. Forest Service.
She said she met Justice while working on a conservation easement on property he owned near Smiley Creek in the Sawtooth Valley.
“He was a wonderful man,” she said.