Effort to purchase, preserve Sweetwater Lake gets big fundraising boosts
'Save the Lake' preservation campaign gets $10,000 from Eagle, big donation from anonymous source
Eagle is embracing another open space project, this one well away from its borders.
The Eagle Town Board pledged $10,000 from its 2020 budget to help preserve Sweetwater Lake. The Eagle Valley Land Trust asked for $100,000 and the town board said they’d likely get there eventually.
“We should support this,” town board member Kevin Brubeck said as the town board voted unanimously to pledge the initial $10,000.
Save the Lake
So far, the Eagle Valley Land Trust has received 130 letters of support, which is good, and more than $700,000 in donations, which is better.
“Dozens of organizations have signed on,” Bergen Tjossem, the communications and development manager for EVLT, told the Eagle Town Board.
Sweetwater Lake is important to the western Eagle River Valley, Tjossem said.
“As Maroon Lake is to Aspen and Piney Lake is to Vail, Sweetwater Lake is to this end of the valley,” Tjossem said.
While Sweetwater Lake is in eastern Garfield County, the only access is from Sweetwater Road, off the Colorado River Road through western Eagle County north of Dotsero.
Since the property went up for sale, public access has been limited, Tjossem said. The development plan envisions 240 homes, a golf course and a hotel.
The Eagle Valley Land Trust needs to raise $3.5 million. If they cannot raise the money it will be sold to the highest bidder.
“It will be lost,” Tjossem said.
The EVLT’s December fundraising blitz was a massive success. An anonymous donor matched some of their other donations and they’re around halfway to the $3.5 million they need, Tjossem said.
Owners giving conservation a chance
The 488-acre Sweetwater Lake property includes most of the lake and much of surrounding property. It has passed through several owners over the decades. Its current owners, a Denver-based development and investment company, have had it on the market for a couple of years. Marketing has touted the property’s development potential.
However, the owners had competing bids for this property and saw the potential for conservation, Tjossem said.
The Conservation Fund has the purchase contract. If it can raise the money and get the deal done, Sweetwater Lake will become part of the White River National Forest and will be managed by the Forest Service.
The Forest Service is asking the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund for a significant portion of the Sweetwater purchase, a request more likely to be granted since Congress approved $495 million in LWCF funding for fiscal year.
“The $495 million proposed for LWCF in fiscal year 2020 represents the highest appropriation for LWCF in the last 17 years,” Jonathan Asher, Government Relations Director at The Wilderness Society and a spokesman for the LWCF Coalition said. “We are sincerely grateful to the many members of Congress who have worked tirelessly to increase LWCF funding for the communities and public lands that depend on this cornerstone conservation program.”
Having the valley’s town and county governments is a huge plus for the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s consideration, Tjossem said.
“The more we can raise while they’re considering this, the better chance we have,” Tjossem said.
Wolves were a problem for ranchers when Kip Gates’ great-great-grandfather homesteaded in the area. He doesn’t want the problem to return.