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Billionaire Seeks To Bridge Land Gap By Making Swap

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A public road on federal land runs through the middle of Bill Koch's Bear Ranch near Paonia. (credit: CBS)

A public road on federal land runs through the middle of Bill Koch’s Bear Ranch near Paonia. (credit: CBS)

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Investigator Rick Sallinger

PAONIA, Colo. (CBS4)- A billionaire ranch owner in Western Colorado is upping the ante in his bid to make a swap for some strategically-placed federal land.

Bill Koch owns the Bear Ranch which overlooks an Old Western town with about 50 buildings that sits outside Paonia located northeast of Delta.

The land swap is causing controversy that is gaining national attention.

Koch’s ranch is divided in the middle by a strip of federal land with a public road running through it.

“He doesn’t want the public looking at his western village. He has said himself that he wants his privacy,” said land swap opponent Douglas Gill.

Koch has hired Tom Glass to work a land swap to connect those parcels of land.

When asked why it is so important for Koch to have access to that land, Glass replied, “Primarily because of trespassing and poaching.”

Koch helped get a bill introduced in Congress to swap the land. That’s when some locals cried foul.

Paonia resident Ed Marston wrote a letter to a newspaper.

“It was the first public notice that those bills existed in print and then all hell broke loose,” said Marston.

Some are worried that Koch’s land deal would block access to the scenic Ragged Mountains but Glass insists the deal is good for the public. He also said it has been sweetened considerably.

Glass took CBS 4 On Your Side Investigator Rick Sallinger on a tour of a nearby 834 acre ranch that Koch purchased to create better public access to the area around the Ragged Mountains. It’s one of the many parcels that Koch is offering to swap for the federal land.

“We listened. To Bill’s credit he’s acted on what he’s listened to and he’s opened his checkbook for a terrific deal for the public,” said Glass.

Opponents wonder if the Old West town will become a type of Dollywood when Koch is gone.

“I call it an attractive nuisance and I wish he hadn’t plunked this western village down in the middle of one of my favorite mountain views,” said Gill.

Although the land swap bill never made it through Congress, the proposal is still very active.

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