Five years leaves a lasting legacy for departing Eagle Valley Land Trust director
Jim Daus reflects on conservation deals and other accomplishments the organization celebrated during his tenure
EAGLE — Leaving a legacy — it’s something we all aspire to do with our lives.
For the past five years, that’s been the stuff of the everyday workday for Jim Daus of the Eagle Valley Land Trust.
Under the heading “mission,” the organization’s website says it best: “Eagle Valley Land Trust protects forever the lands we love, to preserve our heritage, scenic beauty, recreational opportunities, and wildlife habitats, and to build a permanent legacy for future generations.”
Since 2014, Daus has served as the executive director of the land trust. During his tenure, he has worked on everything from the Brush Creek Ranch and Open Space effort to the whimsical Cow Patty Bingo fundraiser. Along the way, he has shared the message about how critical it is to preserve open lands today for the benefit of future generations.
But after five years at the helm of the organization that has been the focus of his passion, Daus will be leaving the Eagle Valley Land Trust in December. He and his wife are relocating to the Aiderondacks in upstate New York.
“The decision was to start and look for something new. The land trust is in great shape, and I was ready for a new challenge,” Daus said.
As he prepares for that next career step, Daus has fond memories of the people and places of Eagle County. Thanks to his effort, many of those special places will remain undisturbed long after he has departed.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Daus came to Eagle County from Boulder County Parks and Open Space, but his background was in commercial real estate development. That unique combination has served him well.
“Landowners are only going to work with people and organizations they trust,” said Daus. “Our approach is to educate people and not press them. Their land is a family or business asset, and what they do with it is totally their business.”
During his time with the land trust, Daus gained a huge appreciation for the county’s ranching heritage.
“The ranchers here have lived vibrantly storied lives,” he said. “What many of them want to do is to tell those stories.”
And, he noted, along with preserving their stories, many want to preserve the land their ancestors worked. The challenge is to make that economically possible. That takes a lot of organizations working in concert, and that is where the efforts of the Eagle Valley Land Trust have been invaluable. As the land trust website notes, the goal is to work in collaboration with local, regional, state and national partners to conserve significant lands in Eagle County and the surrounding area.
Daus nurtured ties with organizations such as the Conservation Fund, Great Outdoors Colorado, Eagle County and with numerous private donors. The result can be seen throughout the Eagle County landscape.
“Jim was instrumental in conserving the marquee properties of Brush Creek Valley Ranch and Open Space (formerly known as Hardscrabble Ranch, now owned and managed by Eagle County Open Space) and Buchholz-Winfrey Ranch,” noted T.J. Voboril, a member of the Eagle Valley Land Trust Board of Directors. “These preserved parcels will benefit the community for generations to come.”
Voboril said those project were great examples of Daus’s collaborative abilities.
“As was typical, Jim was able to rally support from disparate stakeholders to complete the complex deals, including working closely with Eagle County, an important EVLT ally and partner.”
Daus agreed that Brush Creek Ranch and Open Space and the Buchholz-Winfrey Ranch, a 2017 deal that preserved a 1,700-acre property north of Eagle, were two of the organization’s biggest accomplishments during his tenure. He also cited the 4-acre Minturn Boneyard project as an important save, noting that property location is as important as landmass when it comes to preservation efforts.
This fall, the land trust launched what might become another marquee effort — the Sweetwater Lake Resort preservation. The parcel covers 488 acres in eastern Garfield County and is accessible all year round. Sweetwater Lake itself is one of Colorado’s largest natural lakes.
“It’s really nice to set that project get started,” Daus said.
But starting a preservation effort, and even completing a deal, is only the beginning of the land trust’s work.
“We have an obligation to maintain that lands that are in our possession, forever,” Daus said. “So, unlike other nonprofits, we have to exist forever.”
That’s a heavy responsibility, but the land trust embraces that duty.
“With Jim at the helm, Eagle Valley Land Trust increased the amount of land under its protection from 7,384 to 11,278 acres and from 28 to 36 parcels,” Voboril noted.
Being the organization tasked with unceasing land stewardship means the land trust has to do some serious fundraising. Not only must the land trust reach out to people to donate for special efforts such as the current Sweetwater Lake Resort project, but it must also ask for continuing financial support. To that aim, Daus noted one of the land trust’s programs gives donors the option of underwriting the costs of special open space parcels.
“You get to support a beautiful property for a year. The program connects our donors with our conservation program in a unique way,” he said.
His tenure has also seen the launch of the Land and Rivers Fund, a joint program of the land trust and the Eagle River Watershed Council. The two organizations work with local businesses on a voluntary program where a 1% donation to the groups is paid by business patrons. The money collected helps promote and restore healthy rivers, clean water, conscientious development, preservation of open space, wildlife and fish habitat, agriculture, water rights, and economic diversity throughout the valley. This year the program is expected to generate $120,000.
Along with attracting dollars to the land trust, Daus has worked with Walking Mountains Science Center to build a human legacy. “We are hoping to plant the seed of the conservationist mentality in the minds of future citizens,” Daus said. “The project is actually called that — Future conservationists.”
Between preeminent preservation projects, innovative fundraising efforts, and solid partnership work, Daus is leaving the land trust on a high note.
“The organization has never been stronger,” said Eagle Valley Land Trust Board of Directors president Adrian Sulak Bombard. “EVLT’s policies and procedures are detailed, up to date and complete. The organization is financially sound, and we will accomplish another smooth reaccreditation with our national organization — the Land Trust Alliance.”
“Under Jim’s leadership, EVLT has done more good work in more interesting ways than ever before,” she continued. “Conservation easements are the organization’s main tool, but now we have many more. The easements we have completed, or that are underway as Jim finishes his highly productive tenure, are iconic and spectacular lands that our county will forever treasure.”
As he prepares to depart the valley, Daus offered some simple advice to his successor.
“Listen to your staff and the board members. They are your best eyes and ears in the community and they are definitely on your team.”
It won’t be easy to leave that team behind, he acknowledged.
“It feels like one big family. I will miss it.”
His other piece of advice is to enjoy the beautiful legacy you are trying to create.
“Remember to slow down and do about half as much as you want to accomplish,” Daus said. “Take time for that cup of coffee or lunch with someone from the community or a partner organization.”
In the end, Daus feels fortunate that he had the opportunity to work with the land trust because it gave him the opportunity to do a job that was worth doing.
“We have to try to conserve some of this valley. It is an investment in our future. That’s what I wish everyone would understand. I want people to know we are here to serve them,” Daus said.
Snowplowing efforts are a prime example of how sometimes the very people who need a service hinder its delivery.