Editor's note: This is the first in a multi-part series. Over the next several months, members of the board of directors of the Eagle Valley Land Trust will be writing about their favorite conservation easements and why these open spaces and special places are important to our community. The Land Trust holds conservation easements on nearly 7,000 acres throughout our community which preserve and protect the land and its natural resources forever.
My favorite conservation easement: The Constellation Ridge Conservation Easement at Brightwater in Gypsum.
Maybe you could say it's because I live in Gypsum but I would say it is more what this conservation easement represents that makes it a favorite of mine.
The Constellation Ridge conservation easement on the Brightwater property in Gypsum has almost everything that you might want a conservation easement to have.
The 95 acres along Gypsum Creek were purchased by the developer of Brightwater with the intention of building a "few" luxury homes on the west side of the creek. The Gypsum Town Council, along with the Planning and Zoning Commission, took a site visit to the property and determined that it's adjacency to BLM and its importance in providing wildlife access to Gypsum Creek made it too important as a wildlife area to allow the disturbance that occurs with the development of roads and homes.
In working through the development process, Brightwater agreed to keep the property as open space and put it into conservation easement with the Eagle Valley Land Trust.
This conservation easement represents the best in what can be achieved in negotiating for the preservation of open space. The conservation easement has the following features:
• It was donated by the developer.
• The costs for the ongoing stewardship and legal defense are being paid for by the developer.
• The developer continues to own the land and pay taxes on it (although at a reduced rate because the development potential has been removed).
• The developer cares for and maintains the land thus eliminating any ongoing maintenance expense for the town, the county or the general public.
• There is public access to the land and public access to Gypsum Creek that has been provided for by Brightwater.
• The land will remain undeveloped open space in perpetuity for the benefit of future generations due to the decision of the Gypsum Town Council and the work of the Eagle Valley Land Trust.
The developer in return retains a piece of land that becomes an asset to the Brightwater community. This land provides the owners in the development with a permanent scenic viewshed, an area for hiking and horseback riding, unspoiled access to Gypsum Creek for fishing and a direct interconnect for all Brightwater homeowners with the adjacent BLM. The Constellation Ridge conservation easement creates a park like setting for Brightwater residents that is part of the development but still affords access to the general public to enjoy these protected lands.
The Eagle Valley Land Trust has proven to be a good vehicle for the town of Gypsum to permanently preserve environmentally important land, as well as to ensure public access to Gypsum Creek. The town is attuned to the need for public access as properties are developed. The current thinking by the town is that public access along the Eagle River and Gypsum Creek are important in planning of future developments. The town does not look to force public access onto undeveloped private lands but there is a sense that when lands are developed there should be public benefit provided that allows access to rivers and streams as a mitigation factor to offset the loss of current ranch lands and open space.
In summary, the Eagle Valley Land Trust has worked with the Brightwater developers and the town of Gypsum to provide for 95 acres of conserved land that recognizes the need for wildlife mitigation, provides public access for fishing and hiking, creates a link that will eventually provide fishing and hiking access along most or all of Gypsum Creek and at the same time enhances the open space characteristics of the developer's property.
This is my favorite conservation easement because it has allowed for adjacent development but acknowledges how development should interface with existing open space, BLM lands, wildlife and public access. Our community values open spaces and we are fortunate to have the Eagle Valley Land Trust to help us work in partnership with owners and local governments to protect, guard and defend our lands now and for the benefit of future generations.
Tom Edwards is a member of the Gypsum Town Council and the Chairman of Eagle County's Open Space Advisory Committee. He is also a president emeritus of the Eagle Valley Land Trust. For more information about your local Land Trust, visit www.evlt.org.