Conservationists near Bair Ranch fund-raising goal |

Conservationists near Bair Ranch fund-raising goal

Veronica Whitney
Bair Ranch owner Craig Bair oversees the release of hundreds of head of sheep early Friday morning May 21, 2004. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

Edwards resident Don Cohen contributed to the preservation of the Bair Ranch because he liked the idea of his money bolstering federal, state and local funds already committed to the deal now nearing fruition.”This sets a good example of how public and private funds can work,” said Cohen, who is among more than 1,000 Eagle County residents who have put money toward the $5 millions need to ban development on 4,800 acres of the Bair Ranch, which straddles Eagle and Garfield counties. “We are going to see more and more of this combination of funding,” Cohen said. “Preserving land is expensive and you have to be more creative.” Cohen, who donated the money to the Eagle Valley Land Trust, the organization raising funds locally for the project, said even his 21-year-old son wrote a check to contribute. “It gives us a way to feel that we can have some ownership of being able to preserve open space,” Cohen said.Money donated by citizens will add up to county, state and federal funding already set aside to buy what’s called a conservation easement” on 4,800 acres of the ranch. The easement prohibit further development and allow ranching activities to continue. The closing is less than one month away and local conservationists still need to raise $118,000 for the project. Cindy Cohagen, executive director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust, said the land organization is less than 10 percent shy of its $1.3 million fund-raising goal. The deal between The Conservation Fund, the Boulder-based nonprofit group spearheading the deal, and the brothers who own the ranch, Craig and LeGrande Bair, is set to close July 7.

“Given the calls and inquiries, I’m confident we will have the money in hand to take to the closing table,” Cohagen said.On June 1, after months of heated debate, the County Commissioners Michael Gallagher and Arn Menconi, with Commissioner Tom Stone dissenting, approved a $2 million contribution toward the project. “Since the commissioners decision, we’ve had significant contributions made,” Cohagen said. The $2 million comes from the new open space tax approved by voters in 2002. “We’ll need the whole amount on closing and I’m confident we will have it,” said Christine Quinlan of The Conservation Fund. “The county’s decision is a huge catalyst for raising the small amount that’s been left.”According to Cohagen, some people had been waiting to contribute because the project had stirred up some conflict.

“The controversy around the project had provided a difficult environment for fund-raising,” she said. “But despite that, the community has spoken very clearly.”Those opposing the project say the money will preserve land that won’t have significant public access -only 512 acres along the Eagle River will be open to the public.”Conservation easements are a relatively new concept in Eagle County,” Cohagen said. “This would be the third and largest easement placed on county land.”Previous easements included the East Vail waterfall in 2000, for which the Land Trust raised for $300,000; and the West Avon campaign for $150,000 in 2002. In addition to the private contributions and the $2 million from the open space tax, money to purchase the easement on the Bair Ranch comes from: the Bureau of Land Management, which has already committed $1.5 million to the project, and Great Outdoors Colorado, a state organization that has pledged $1 million. Although it took The Conservation Fund three years to settle the deal, Quinlan said it’s still too early to celebrate.

“It will be a huge victory,” Quinlan said. “It’s a terrific first project for the open space tax money and it’s great for the Bairs.”Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at Raising the ranchFor more information on the Bair Ranch fund-raising campaign, call Cindy Cohagen of the Eagle Valley Land Trust at 328-1573.

Support Local Journalism