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. The original purchase agreement has been extended such that the transaction must be completed (or extended) by March 2020. The original purchase agreement is available at: https://www.co.albany.wy.us/Data/Sites/1/Purchase%20and%20Sale%20Agreement%20(Pilot%20Hill).pdf
I heard the State is considering a Land Swap / Exchange. How would that work?
The Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments (OSLI) is evaluating a proposal to sell isolated state parcels and to acquire the Pilot Hill Project land. The State owns parcels of land scattered across Wyoming, which are 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 access to open space for recreation and hunting. Some state parcels are inaccessible to the public as they are surrounded by private land. Several landowners in SE WY are interested in purchasing isolated state parcels that are located within their private land holdings, rather than maintain leases from the State to utilize the land for ranching activities.
In the exchange proposal initiated by the Pilot Hill Project, OSLI is evaluating and conducting appraisals on the proposed isolated parcels to decide if these parcels should be sold to private landowners with the agreement that the income from those sales would be utilized by OSLI to purchase the Pilot Hill property. The exchange proposal also designates that Albany County would secure long-term lease agreements on the Pilot Hill land that would generate income for the State Common School Fund. The exchange would also consolidate State land parcels and increase access for citizens to the land for recreation.
The Pilot Hill exchange proposal is a top priority for OSLI, and the office anticipates publishing the land exchange plan for public comments once they have completed the analysis, likely in the fall/winter of 2019.
While the State Land exchange will accomplish the first step of the land being acquired for public use, major additional expenses will still be incurred in order to develop public use infrastructure for the Pilot Hill Project and to establish a long-term management and maintenance fund for the land. Thus, fundraising efforts are ongoing, and donations are always appreciated!
Why has the purchase date been extended again?
The State land exchange process is complex, requiring analysis, surveys, appraisals of multiple, separate land tracts and the engagement of multiple land owners. The State must follow standard procedures, and the transaction will have to be approved by the State Land Investment Board (SLIB) before it can be completed.
The Pilot Hill Project (PHP) committees and volunteers continue to work diligently with OSLI staff, the current landowner and various local, state and federal government agencies and organizations to bring the project to fruition, recognizing that public land acquisition initiatives like this typically take many years to complete.
Will there be public events to give input and learn more?
Yes. Several opportunities to experience and explore the Pilot Hill property and provide input and feedback on the trail system and amenities plans will be held in early 2020. Public hearings on the land exchange plan will also be held in the late 2019 or early 2020, and other feedback will be gathered through written responses and electronic comment platforms that will be advertised over the coming months.
Public meetings have already been hosted in March and December 2018, information tables were staffed by volunteers at the Farmers Markets and other public events, and a public input survey was conducted. The results of these efforts can be found at www.pilothill.org. Public access days were held in September and October 2019, to allow the public an opportunity to access the property in preparation for providing comments regarding the Land Use Plans which are under development and which will be available for public comment in late 2019 and early 2020.
Check PilotHill.org and follow @PilotHillLandPurchase on Facebook for 2019 meeting announcements.
Tell me more about the ongoing planning process.
In July 2019, the Albany County Commissioners signed a contract with the planning firm SE Group to prepare a Land-use Plan for the Pilot Hill property. SE Group is leading a community-driven planning process to develop trail concepts and management objectives for the property. The planning process began in earnest in September 2019, with an SE Group visit to Laramie, and will wrap up in July 2020, after the community has numerous opportunities to provide their initial ideas, offer feedback on initial concepts, and vet the draft plan. For more information on the process, updates, and public engagement opportunities, see www.pilothill.org/plan
How will the land be managed? Who will be responsible?
As noted in condition 14.04a of the purchase agreement, the land will be managed for public use in a manner similar to a state or county park. The Pilot Hill Project Committee is exploring arrangements for an entity to manage the property. Options currently under consideration include Wyoming State Parks, Wyoming Game and Fish, Albany County or a collaboration with multiple management entities and 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.
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 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!
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 Examples include:
- Montana’s Whitefish Trail network, a 44-mile trail system used primarily by locals, generates an estimated $6.4 million in consumer spending annually. $3.6 million of that spending is from local trail users.
- In the Mad River Valley of Vermont, an 8-mile trail network sees almost 40,000 annual visits, generating $1 million in consumer spending, $182,000 in federal, state, and local taxes, and 13 jobs.
- 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
- In Crosby, Minnesota, a new 25-mile trail network attracts 20,000 visitors annually who generate an estimated $2 million for the local economy. The new trail system has also spurred 15 new businesses in town, many of which were started by young people who have chosen to live and work in the area due to the trail system (International Mountain Bike Association)
How can I make a pledge or donation?
Donations to the Pilot Hill Project are tax-deductible and payable through a fund administered by the Wyoming Community Foundation (WYCF). Donations can be mailed to Pilot Hill Project PO Box 487, Laramie WY 82073 or made electronically at www.pilothill.org/support
Pledge forms are also available at www.PilotHill.org The forms indicate that pledges will be utilized for expenses including land acquisition, the development of public use infrastructure (trails, parking areas etc.) and management of the site and project. The pledge form notes that payment is due within 30 days after the property has been secured for public use, and that in the event that the Pilot Hill property cannot be acquired for public use, the pledge is withdrawn.
Donations cannot be refunded if the land purchase is not finalized due to the donation status as a tax-deductible gift to a qualifying non-profit by the IRS. Donations made in advance of the final purchase transaction may be applied toward expenses incurred in pursuit of the project, the planning and design process and activities for Pilot Hill recreation trails and park amenities, or initial management fees. In the case that the Pilot Hill purchase is not completed, remaining funds would be applied to similar (non-profit) projects in Albany County or to a permanent fund for recreation and/or conservation projects in Albany County.
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 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.