Who would purchase the land? What are the terms?
The purchase agreement states that the land may be purchased by Albany County, the University of Wyoming or the State of Wyoming, for the appraised price of $10.5 million. According to the purchase agreement, the transaction must be completed (or extended) by the Fall of 2018. The full purchase agreement is available at https://www.co.albany.wy.us/Data/Sites/1/Purchase%20and%20Sale%20Agreement%20(Pilot%20Hill).pdf
Why the urgency?
The purchase agreement calls for a closing date no later than one year after the Albany County Commission approved the purchase. The Commission approved the purchase in October 2017.
What happens if the deadline is not met?
The Pilot Hill Project Committee and volunteers are working diligently to secure funding for the project, however, many of the potential funding opportunities require extensive due diligence and application processes that are on pre-set timelines. The Committee is also communicating with the landowners frequently, and believes that if we can demonstrate significant progress toward securing the funds for the purchase, the landowner will consider an extension. Broad community support is a critical part of demonstrating progress and a strong commitment to purchasing the land.
Will there be public events to give input and learn more?
Yes. A public meeting was held in March to answer initial questions and gather input. A public input survey link is available at PilotHill.org and information tables will be staffed by volunteers at the Farmers Markets and other public events. Additional public meetings will be scheduled to discuss land management plans if the purchase can be completed. Check PilotHill.org and follow @PilotHillLandPurchase on Facebook for meeting announcements.
How can I help?
Learn about the project, sign up for our email list at PilotHill.org, follow @PilotHillLandPurchase on Facebook, make a pledge or donation, participate in public forums and spread the word!
What happens to the land if the purchase isn’t completed?
As the land is currently privately owned, the owner is free to sell the land to another willing buyer for development or continue to use it for agriculture. The owner has indicated that there is interest from developers to acquire and develop the property for residential use.
How will the land be managed?
As noted in condition 14.04a of the purchase agreement, the land will be managed for public use in the same manner as a state park or county park.
Who will be responsible?
The Pilot Hill Project Committee is exploring arrangements for an entity to manage the property. Options currently under consideration include Wyoming State Parks, Albany County or a collaboration with a yet-to-be-formed non-profit organization.
How much will it cost to maintain?
That depends on how the land will ultimately be managed. The Land Management Subcommittee is exploring management options consistent with the purchase agreement.
After the purchase, could the land ever be developed?
The purchase agreement stipulates that the land will remain undeveloped for 50 years as a condition of the sale. A permanent restriction on development could be put into place by the purchaser once the transaction is completed, or a conservation easement, could be established as a component of the purchase to permanently restrict the property from development. A Wyoming State Lands exchange/swap is also being explored, which would result in some or all of the land being managed according to State Land management policies.
If the county fails to purchase this property will it ever get another chance?
Probably not. The landowner has indicated a desire to sell the property and will likely proceed with a sale to the highest bidder. The property comprises multiple parcels which could be sold off together or over time. The property is presently zoned (A) Agriculture, which would allow for further subdivision of the property to 35-acre or larger lots on which residences could be constructed.
How can the purchase of this property benefit Laramie’s and Albany County’s economy?
A growing body of research is attempting to quantify the tangible and intangible benefits of public lands adjacent to communities. A report called “West is Best: How Public Lands in the West Create a Competitive Economic Advantage” finds that public lands offer a competitive advantage to high-tech services industries by allowing them to attract a skilled workforce, which is a key ingredient for economic growth. The report was prepared by Headwaters Economics, an independent, nonprofit research group that works to improve community development and land management decisions. 1
Trails also influence decisions by businesses to relocate. Companies want to be in communities with attractive amenities so they can hire qualified employees. Proximity to trails and open space is a popular amenity in a community, according to Governor Mead’s Outdoor Recreation Task Force. 2
Studies also indicate an increase in property values near trails, as they’re the top amenity desired by homebuyers, according to the National Association of Realtors. 3
When it comes to quantifying the health benefits of trails, a 2004 study found that for every dollar invested in a trail network, the local community experienced almost $3 in medical benefits. 4
Are there other examples where the establishment of open space parks at the edge of towns clearly supports economic development?
Yes! Numerous studies on the topic can be found at a database called the Trails Benefits Library, which was created by Headwaters Economics, an independent, nonprofit research group that works to improve community development and land management decisions. 5 Three examples include:
- Jackson, Wyoming has a network of purpose-built pathways that allow for non-motorized travel directly to trailheads and public lands. A 2011 study found that the Teton County trail system produced more than $18 million in economic activity a year.
- Boise, Idaho, has an extensive trails network connecting neighborhoods and public lands called the Ridge to Rivers Trail System. The system started with 12 miles in 1992 and has grown to include 190 miles as of 2016. A 2012 study found that the trail system provided almost $12 million in benefits every year through property value increases, reduced health care spending, public utilities savings and social cohesion. 6
- Fruita, Colorado, receives $1.5 million a year in economic benefits from its trails system, which attracts mountain bikers from around the world to ride hundreds of miles of trails just outside town. That dollar amount includes a 51 percent increase in sales tax revenues over the last five years. 7
How can I make a pledge or donation?
Pledge forms are available at PilotHill.org. The forms indicate that pledges would be utilized for the purchase, management, and/or construction of infrastructure and are payable within 30 days of assurance that the property transaction will be completed. Donations will be tax-deductible and payable through a fund administered by the Wyoming Community Foundation (WYCF).
Donations can be made to the WYCF and designated to the Pilot Hill Project fund at any time. However, if the purchase is not completed, donations will not be returned as the refunding of tax-deductible funds is complicated. Funds made in advance of the transaction may be applied toward eligible expenses incurred in pursuit of the project or may be used for a permanent fund for recreation and conservation projects in Albany County. Pledges and Donations can be made at any time at PilotHill.org.
I heard the State is considering a Land Swap / Exchange. How would that work?
Yes – the State Office of Lands is considering an opportunity to partner with PHP to help with the purchase. We are hopeful that this may support a fairly large part of the purchase.
The State owns parcels of land scattered across the State. The land is managed to produce income for the State Common School Fund through different fees like grazing or recreation leases. The State Lands also provide Wyoming’s citizens with access to open space for recreation and hunting.
Some state parcels are surrounded by private land so they are not accessible to the general public. Several landowners in SE WY have state parcels within their private land holdings, and they would like to buy those parcels from the State.
In this proposal, the State will evaluate those parcels, have them appraised and decide if these parcels should be sold. The landowner would pay the State for the parcel and the State would then use that money to invest in the purchase of the Pilot Hill property.
The state would offer the PHP leases on the Pilot Hill land to generate income for the State Common School Fund. This would also consolidate State land parcels and increase access for citizens to the land for recreation.
There are quite a few steps in this process and we are only on step 1. If the State’s initial review shows this might work, there will a hearing and opportunities for public input – most likely in the fall of 2018. The PHP committee is continuing to work on lots of funding options and knows that this would not fully fund all the project needs.
What other sources of funding are being explored?
The Pilot Hill Project Committee is pursuing funding from all available sources. Organizations that are working in support of completing the transaction or raising funding include The Nature Conservancy, The Conservation Fund, Laramie Rivers Conservation District, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Trust for Public Land.
Is the purchase price fair?
An appraisal was completed in early 2018, and the sale price was adjusted to the appraised value of $10.5 million.
Will the purchase raise my county taxes or affect the county budget?
We are beginning by pursuing grants, donations, and other non-tax forms of financing that will not affect Albany County’s operating budget. Should a tax levy or bond issue be proposed, it would be subject to voter approval in an election. We are also pursuing a land management arrangement that would minimize ongoing management costs to the county.
Is this critical range for any game animals?
Yes. According to Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist Lee Knox, the Pilot Hill lowlands provide crucial winter range for pronghorn that range in the vicinity and across a large area to the north.
Crucial winter range refers to habitat that can support wildlife even during severe winters, as it is the most likely to be free from snow cover and provide food. It’s the most important habitat for ensuring the health of a herd.
Knox said the Pilot Hill land is even more important for pronghorn because other areas in their historic range along the eastern side of town have already been developed. The higher elevation areas of the parcel serve as summer range for local mule deer and winter range for elk.
Are there any sensitive plant or wildlife species on the property?
Yes. The site likely supports two species previously listed under the Endangered Species Act — the bald eagle and peregrine falcon. Another likely occupant, the little brown bat, is currently under consideration for possible listing on the Endangered or Threatened lists.
An evaluation by the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database, or WYNDD, indicates the property likely supports 71 species that are designated as “sensitive” by the Bureau of Land Management or U.S. Forest Service, or they’re designated as “species of greatest conservation need” by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. These species include 40 birds, 19 mammals, at least seven invertebrates, four plants, and one amphibian.
Can recreation coexist with wildlife?
Yes. A Land Management Committee will be working to ensure that minimizing impacts to wildlife will be a priority in the management plan.
According to Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist Lee Knox, wintering big game benefit from as little human disturbance as possible during the harshest winter months, which is also when recreation would be at its lowest level.
How can the purchase of this property protect Laramie’s drinking water?
The Casper Aquifer is a primary source of drinking water for the City of Laramie and for private well owners. Nearly all of the Pilot Hill purchase area sits atop the Casper Aquifer recharge zone, where surface water flows underground to replenish groundwater stored in the aquifer.
Pollutants are also able to enter the aquifer through the recharge zone. The recharge zone is vulnerable to contaminants from most kinds of human development, such as septic systems in homes, storm runoff along roadways and agricultural chemicals and waste. The recharge zone in this area is particularly vulnerable to the infiltration of contaminants because the highly permeable fractured bedrock is largely uncovered by soil or overlying rock formations.
Is recreation an allowed use under the City’s and County’s aquifer protection plans?
Yes. While many types of commercial and industrial activities are prohibited by the city’s and county’s aquifer protection plans, outdoor recreation is not prohibited.
Can I visit the parcel?
No. Until the purchase is complete, the land remains private property and access is not permitted, except during the Pilot Hill 25k Classic foot race in early June.
Where can I get a view of the parcel?
If you live in Laramie, step outside and look to the east for a view of Pilot Hill, which is included in the parcel. While driving east on Grand Avenue, you can also view the parcel on the eastern side of town.
The general boundaries of the parcel are Interstate 80 to the south, Laramie city limits to the west, Jack Rabbit Canyon to the north and the Pole Mountain Unit of the Medicine Bow National Forest to the east. Maps showing the boundaries are available at PilotHill.org.
During the summer, you can access National Forest lands overlooking the property via I-80 to Happy Jack Road and Forest Road 703. The radio facilities on Pilot Hill are private property and not included in the purchase agreement.
For a closer look at the parcel, go to the state section where the Schoolyard Trails are being developed. Access is available at the corner of 45th and Crow or via the Jacoby Ridge Rural Trail. What you will see is a very large tract of undeveloped land with enormous potential for our community.
Where would the public be able to access this property?
Planning is underway to create multiple public access points to the property.
Will this piece of land connect Laramie to the Medicine Bow National Forest?
Yes. The public would have direct access from town to 55,000 acres of National Forest and an additional 3,000 acres of BLM and other State of Wyoming lands.
What kinds of recreational uses will be allowed?
Use of the property will be specified by the future land manager with public input. The land will be open to the public, and various forms of non-motorized recreation will be allowed, such as hiking, biking, horseback riding and wildlife viewing. Other potential uses include camping and bow hunting. A user fee may be put in place to help support the purchase and maintenance of the land.
Will there be motorized access?
The purchase agreement indicates that motorized access will be limited to authorized vehicles for emergency and maintenance access.
Why are there no roads on the maps on the website?
The land is currently private property and will remain so until the successful conclusion of the purchase. Roads and trails on the property are excluded from the maps so as not to encourage trespassing on the land in the meantime.
Will different types of recreation be separated?
The exact details of the eventual management plan cannot be specified at this time, given that the eventual land manager is not yet known. However, the goal is to provide Albany County residents and visitors with a quality experience in the great outdoors, which includes being able to have a quiet walk with great wildlife viewing opportunities, a horseback ride that is not compromised by the sudden appearance of a fast-moving cyclist, and a mountain bike ride that offers an uninterrupted descent. We believe all of these uses can be accommodated on this large expanse of land.