By Mark Esper
The Silverton Town Council voted unanimously Monday to proceed with negotiating a 99-year lease with Mountain Studies Institute for the town rights-of-way across the 10-acre Silverton Lakes Campground.
MSI hopes to convert the campground into a year-round research field station.
MSI operations director Jim Donovan briefed the Town Council on the $3 million project, saying MSI is under contract to purchase the campground, pending approval of a master plan for the site now being drafted.
“It’s really a perfect location for Mountain Studies Institute,” Donovan said, noting the wetlands that permeate the site would not be of much use to other buyers of the property.
“I think the whole idea is superb,” said Town Trustee Brison Gooch. But he and other council members pointed to some details to be worked out in the lease agreement.
And Trustee Jim Lindaman worried about the loss of RV camping spaces for the public after MSI phases them out in four years
MSI has agreed to provide public access to ponds that have historically been used for fishing by town residents, and the property will be integrated into the town trail system MSI is helping to develop.
MSI supporters pointed to the economic impact of having a research facility established here.
Trustee Pat Swonger noted MSI drew criticism for allegedly “competing” with local hotels when it occupied the Avon building, “and here we are twisting their arm to operate a private campground.”
He noted an RV park is up for sale in town and he said other RV park owners do not object to MSI’s plans.
Swonger said MSI’s plans are a “tremendous opportunity” for Silverton.
“MSI has been bending over backwards to get into this community,” Swonger said.
Town public works foreman Larry Raab warned that a lot of infrastructure work will be needed to make the campground a year-round facility.
And public works supervisor Gilbert Archuleta said that at any rate, a lease for the town rights of way for the theoretical street grid beneath the campground will require easements for water and sewer to remain intact to serve neighboring lots.
Cement Street resident John Poole said he sees MSI’s proposal as helping to diversify the town’s economy.
Matt Lanning of Silverton, who was a donor for MSI’s plan to buy the Avon, said he will continue to support MSI’s capital fund drive to get a Silverton campus established.
MSI executive director Koren Nydick said the University of Colorado alone has some 800 students who are required to take field classes and MSI would like to be poised to bring “as many of them as possible” to Silverton.
“I think this is a heck of a deal,” said Silverton resident Everett Lyons. “If they weren’t there now it (the campground) would be empty. I don’t see anyone rushing in to open a campground or disco there. I encourage the town to help make it work.”
Gooch moved to continue negotiations on the lease for the town rights of ways. Trustee Chris Tookey seconded it and it passed unanimously.