Artist, potter purchases private easement | VailDaily.com

Artist, potter purchases private easement

Christine Ina Casillas

NWS Westermann2 11-26 MK

She landed in Eagle County the way so many others do: Her truck broke down and she stayed.

Westermann wasn’t looking for a home, but she found one. Her nearest neighbor is an empty 10th Mountain Division Hut. She enjoys her privacy enough to help raise $300,000 to buy a private conservation easement, to make sure her 62 acres stays as open as her mind.

“People will be able to see these wetlands forever,” said Westermann. “It’s for pictures, not for litter.”

Westermann’s little piece of heaven is surrounded by Forest Service land atop Tennessee Pass, running along U.S. Highway 24, a national scenic byway.

It’s the first purchased private conservation easement in Eagle County history. Westermann said it’s precedent setting, but not impossible.

“I wanted to do this so other people would know they could do it,” she said. “I think more of what has happened and I try to stop it. There are so many ranches that have been sold into tiny pieces. I guess I’m an advocate. You’ve got to save the land. I’m blessed to have the scattered thought to move up here instead of Edwards.

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“It’s a great life up here,” Westermann said. “I’m proud that it happened. Let it happen more.”

Free spirit

Westermann has always had a whatever-it-takes kind personality. She cleaned toilets for a living when she landed here in the early 1970s, was a housecleaner for people like Ross Perot, then worked as a Safeway butcher for a dozen or so years.

While she was hacking meat, some customers suggested she try something more gentle, like clay. The first time she molded it, she knew it was more than a hobby, it would become a lifestyle.

Westermann now teaches ceramics at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville. She has been working on mixing clay with water colors, filling her house with myriad pots, bowls, cups and a mirror.

Downstairs, she hides her studio. Outside, off to the side of her home, stands her kiln, tucked snugly under the roof of that former 10th Mountain Division hut.

She made Tennessee Pass her home in 1978. The move might not have included ox-drawn prairie schooners, she is the pioneering free spirit so many of us want to be.

“I feel closer to the 1890s than the 1990s,” said Westermann.

She lived in Potato Patch at a time when her tiny, rustic cabin – that had been moved by a horse and sleigh from Shrine Pass in the ’40s – didn’t seem out of place. She migrated to Minturn, and on up the pass in 1978.

“She definitely lives off the grid,” said Red Cliff resident Caroline Bradford, a friend of Westermann. “She grows her own food. She burns wood. She lives off solar power.

“She’s not rich but she’s very self-sufficient, and she’s surrounded by no one.”

Westermann is surrounded by U.S. Forest Service land. Wide open spaces.

“It’s a pretty special piece of property,” she said.

One mile north of the continental divide at Tennessee Pass in Eagle County, 11 miles past Red Cliff on U.S. Highway 24 lies a piece of protected precious wetlands.

Taylor City Times

The land encompasses portions of the Piney Gulch and Taylor Gulch drainages. The Piney Gulch portion contains the South Fork of the Eagle River, numerous beaver ponds and several permanent springs.

The Taylor Gulch portion, one the east side of Highway 24, is slightly sloped with a mix of open meadow, lodgepole pine and spruce-fir forest. Taylor Gulch was also the site of Taylor City, a mining town that was born and died between 1880 and 1890, Westermann said. Little remains of Taylor City, other than a few foundations and excavation landmarks.

Taylor City property was transferred from the United State government to Jay Greene in 1883. Documents show that Greene owned the property until the 1920’s, when it was transferred to Bert and Albin Anderson and John Maupin. But by that time, mining ended in Taylor City.

In 1937, the parcel was subdivided. That same year, John Magneson was granted 3.4 acres in return for his efforts on behalf of the logging company while working with the Anderson’s.

Albin Anderson died accidentally in 1938. Bert Anderson held onto the property until 1965, when it sold for $10 to Elaine Anderson, his daughter.

“I met Elaine in 1978,” Westermann said. “We became good friends, almost like sisters.”

Westermann helped Anderson financially over the years, paying property taxes and offering her other assistance.

Anderson owned the land for more than three decades, finally relinquishing full title in 2002, before she died at age 66.

“On Aug. 17, 2000, (Anderson’s) lawyers called to say thanks but they were going to sell the land,” Westermann said.

In exchange for resolving several years of unpaid property taxes. Westermann acquired a 50 percent interest in 1995, and purchased the remainder from Elaine Anderson in February, 2002.

“Unfortunately for Elaine, after I bought her half, she died a month later,” Westermann said.

But the land was in limbo for a short time. It took about 18 months to clean up the legal work. To seal the deal, Westermann needed to raise $197,000 in 90 days to buy Anderson’s property.

“Graciously, the neighbors lent me the money interest free,” she said. “It’s going to stay private property.”

Protected forever

Nobody can touch it, said Tom Page, a project manager for the Eagle Valley Land Trust and the Eagle River Watershed Council.

“It’s protected forever,” Page said.

The easement was purchased for $281,750. The funds were assembled from local and state sources. A huge chunk of the funding – $210,00 – came from a fine paid by the owners of the Eagle Mine that in the 1980s discharged pollution into the Eagle River, killing a seven-mile stretch. Additional funding, $75,000, came from state lottery-funded Greater Outdoors Colorado and $10,000 was donated by the Eagle River Watershed Council.

It’s the first closing the Eagle Valley Land Trust has presided over in three years, but it’s also the first time that the Natural Resource Damage Fund – the fine for mine pollution – was used for a conservation easement.

Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at ccasillas@vaildaily.com.