Eagle County Open Space looks forward with secured funding through 2040 | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Open Space looks forward with secured funding through 2040

Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories in the wake of the Tuesday, Nov. 6, election explaining the impact of decisions voters made. Look for more stories in print in coming days and online at http://www.vaildaily.com.

In 2002, the Eagle County Open Space tax was approved by a total of about 50 votes. On Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6, voters in Eagle County approved a 15-year extension of the tax, meant to expire in 2025, by more than 13,000 votes.

Since 2002, Eagle County Open Space has added recreational opportunities and preserved more than 12,000 acres through more than 30 projects, including 8 acres at Dotsero Landing in 2011 and the 1,540 acres preserved at Hardscrabble in 2017, among others.

"It's a whole different program now that we can move forward and continue to actively make purchases," Eagle County Commissioner Jill Ryan said.

“There have been some opportunities presented to us, and we’ve been in a holding pattern. Now the open space program can move forward and assess those opportunities and potentially take advantage of them now that we know we have the funding.”

— Jill Ryan, Eagle County commissioner

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Eagle County Open Space secures funding for land acquisitions and other open space opportunities through a 1.5 mill levy, and Eagle Valley Land Trust is the organization responsible for placing conservation easements on the land that last forever.

'Ready to conserve'

Land deals and acquisitions take time, usually years, Ryan said. While there are projects on the horizon, Eagle County Open Space and Eagle Valley Land Trust do not disclose details because prices can go up once in the public realm.

"There have been some opportunities presented to us, and we've been in a holding pattern," Ryan said. "Now the open space program can move forward and assess those opportunities and potentially take advantage of them now that we know we have the funding."

Jim Daus, executive director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust, said of all the property in Eagle County, only about 5 percent of property owners are open for discussions about land acquisitions any given year, due to generational events such as a death in the family or someone moving.

"Our work is slow," Daus said. "We work on the projects that are available today to work on. We're in constant contact with all of the landowners in this county to come to us when they're ready."

With the open space tax extension now extending through 2040, the Eagle County Open Space program can start to plan beyond 2025, when the initial tax was set to expire. Part of that planning will be in response to community feedback in a recent poll.

"The county's plan is to take that information and do some strategic planning and make sure that the program continues to match what the community wants," Ryan said. "We know the community loves the river access. They are concerned about wildlife. They like having access to trails and places that lead to (Bureau of Land Management) land and things that promote outdoor activity, so we absolutely want to make this community based to continue to deliver on what residents want."

One of the things the community expressed in the poll is the appreciation of a diverse portfolio, Ryan said.

Daus said the average household pays about $64 per year toward the open space tax, including people from out of town, adding the local household probably pays less than that amount.

"Now we have more time to work on some of those high-priority projects," Daus said. "We'll be there and ready to conserve those lands when the opportunity arises."

Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2984 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.

Ballot Question 1A

For: 17,626 (82 percent)

Against: 3,945 (18 percent)

Unofficial results as of 1:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 7.