Eagle County, Land Trust consider future open space issues | VailDaily.com

Eagle County, Land Trust consider future open space issues

Derek Franz

EAGLE – Eagle County Commissioners met with Eagle Valley Land Trust members earlier this month to coordinate ongoing efforts of their land preservation and open space programs. Eagle County Open Space Director Toby Sprunk summarized the county’s situation with a basic concept.

“If you had $50 million what would you save?” he said. “That’s a hard question, but I think we’re starting to map it out.”

Managing land for future

The county and the Eagle Valley Land Trust agreed they have been acquiring a lot of land in recent years, while prices have been lower during the down economy. Now, it’s time to start planning how those lands will be managed in the future and how management will be funded.

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“The dedicated tax for the open space program sunsets in 2025, so we are starting conversations about how to fund and maintain our open space lands beyond that, in perpetuity,” said Commissioner Jill Ryan. “Maybe another ballot initiative will be passed when the time comes, but at this point we are planning as if it’s going to end.”

Ryan noted that the fast rate of land purchases in the last two years is largely related to hiring the county’s first Open Space director.

“Until we hired Sprunk, the fund had been building up, and now he’s made strategic purchases and spent down the fund,” Ryan said. “We’re not finished buying land for open space, but we won’t be buying at the rate we have been.”

Some of the land the Land Trust and the county wouldn’t mind seeing preserved is on the valley floor to act as buffers between communities.

“Have we done enough on the valley floor? We don’t think so,” said Land Trust President Dan Godec. “We still think there are some options on the valley floor. For example, Miller Ranch is an important buffer. It’s the last open land you see between Avon and Edwards.”

Consider All Possibilities

Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry said a public education campaign might be in order. Godec agreed.

“People forget that just because a piece of land is empty now doesn’t mean it will stay that way,” Chandler-Henry said.

“We also have to think about what building blocks we have today that might not be available in the future, such as federal tax deductions,” said Land Trust Project Chairman David Smith.

Smith said identifying conservation opportunities can be tricky.

“It’s a complex matrix you have to build — you have to weigh in those economic factors and what is best for taxpayers and conservation,” he said.

Godec said it’s time to slow down a bit.

“We’ve been on a spending spree with some excess funds and now we’ve kind of spent those dollars and it’s time to be very conscientious of every dollar we spend moving forward,” he said. “Donated easements are going to big a big part of what goes forward, so that we’re hopefully not going to the (Open Space Fund), saying, ‘Would you buy this piece of land that takes a year’s worth of funding from the program?’”

As far as planning for long-term land management, Sprunk said it will be easier to come up with a strategy within the next decade.

“Eight or nine years down the road, we’ll have a more informed decision because we’ll know what we have by then,” he said. “We’re not the only one thinking about this. Everyone is trying to figure out what it costs to manage open space right now and it’s wildly different from program to program and property to property.”

The meeting ended with an executive session to discuss some specific prospects in which Land Trust is interested.

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