Future sprawls without open space
– Dick Hauserman, author of “The Inventors of Vail”
Allow me to indulge you in the following fantasy, or nightmare, if you wish:
EAGLE COUNTY, Nov. 5, 2025 – Current county population: 60,000 and headed to 75,000! Twenty-three years ago, on this exact date, the County Open Space Tax (Referendum 1H) was rejected by the voters. The tax would have expired this year.
The 4,200-acre Bair Ranch at the head of Glenwood Canyon has been developed into 40-acre ranchettes, with a golf course, of course! And the I-70 interchange in Dotsero has two gas stations, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Super 8 and National 9 motels, and all the other trappings of interstate life. The Dotsero area is billed as the “Gateway to the Upper Colorado River,” but the once pristine Colorado river banks are now sprinkled with houses most of the way to Burns Hole. “Success” has come to the upper Colorado River valley, however. It now has the18-hole golf course that was first planned in 1998.
In Gypsum, the expansive hay meadows and ranchlands along Gypsum Creek south of Cotton Ranch have been subdivided. They house 2,000 new residents. Gypsum is still relatively affordable, and has been growing like mad. Along the Eagle River, you’re never more than a hundred feet away from the next fisherman.
Moving upriver to Eagle, Brush Creek sports several even newer golf courses than the ones that existed in 2002, and pop-up condominiums. The condos have sold like hotcakes because they’re “only minutes away from the Eagle County Airport – Colorado’s second-largest, winter AND summer!” There is not a cow or sheep within sight of I-70 in the entire lower valley. But there are new shopping opportunities. Target, Kmart (yes, it survived two bankruptcies!) and a Super Wal-Mart are under construction in the meadowlands. A second Home Depot is rumored to be coming soon!
County residents who remember the drive through Red Canyon, east of Eagle, now see alarming new growth in the canyon bottom. Magnus Lindholm has passed on, and his beautiful Horn Ranch has been sold and subdivided. But not to worry, part of it will be protected forever by the valley’s very newest, private 18-hole championship golf course. It’s the 25th in the valley!
In Wolcott, the sheep meadows and water spout are gone, and have been filled with 500 “affordable” housing units and 1,100 other dwellings, tucked away in the hills south of the 4 Eagle Ranch. Politicians are upset – no more campaign signs in the meadows at election time! Just houses! The Wolcott Yacht Club is gone, too, replaced by the same dozen cookie cutter stores you find everywhere. Even a TCBY! But there’s tons to do in Wolcott. A golf course sits where the 4-Eagle Ranch used to be, along with a small reservoir for water sports. (We knew the Denver Water Board wouldn’t hold off forever, because, though the drought has thankfully passed, we need a reservoir for all the new golf courses and people).
Edwards used to have a dark night sky, but now everything glitters with lights. Bob Brotman and High Place Developers II have won protracted court battles and erected three new gated communities high above Homestead and Singletree. Elk and deer migrations have been severely and permanently altered, but one wonders why? Most of the homes in the new gated “communities” are occupied only 3-4 weeks per year. So wildlife grazing on perfectly manicured lawns would be excellent, if only the deer and elk knew which homes (and dogs) to avoid.
Finally, we reach Avon and Vail. Avon disappeared under a cloud of dust and excavation in 2002, the same year Referendum 1H failed. When it emerged a few years later, the few open meadows that remained in 2002 had been paved, or built over. And, behold! A huge new luxury home community high above Eagle-Vail. Mountain Star II, or is it III?
In the entire Eagle River Valley, only Vail has preserved some of its valley-bottom intact. It had the foresight to start purchasing open space in 1982 by taxing itself. Many Vail residents voted against Referendum 1H in 2002, because THEIR immediate back yard was already protected.
They now fervently wish they could take that vote back. Why? Because the lower valley floor is beginning to look hauntingly like Denver, and the places they used to go to fish, kayak, raft, hike and hunt have become over-crowded.
Rafting the Colorado River, or fishing the Eagle River, just isn’t the same experience anymore – now that houses and stores line most of the riverbanks. And Vail businesses are suffering. Tourism magazines are steering readers to places like Steamboat Springs, Aspen and Summit County, where open space protection programs have existed since the 1990s, and where you can still experience the “real West” or the “last of the best.” Yep! Outside magazine has dropped Vail from its “Top 100” list!
But stop! It’s really 2002, and the above is all just a 23-year fast-forward FANTASY. Or is it? After all, Beaver Creek, Avon and Edwards didn’t exist 23 years ago (in1979)! So, explosive growth can, and does, occur.
Please be clear. I’m not anti-growth – I just don’t want to see it EVERYWHERE! It’s important to keep a few open, green areas – nature’s works of art – separating our communities. Otherwise, by 2025, we may well see uninterrupted sprawl on the valley floor all the way from Glenwood Canyon to Vail. And that’s where most of us live, and drive to work, or recreate, every day. It’s our visual sanity!
Referendum 1H is about spending a few pennies a day – literally 14 cents for the average county household, 38 cents per day for a million dollar home – to create a fund that will enable us to purchase land or conservation easements in our remaining green spaces.
To preserve them, history shows that we need a DEDICATED fund, devoted SOLELY to open space. A fund that can’t be siphoned off for other purposes, no matter how worthy. The Forest Service and BLM both have such a fund (established in l964). So does the state of Colorado. It’s called Great Outdoors Colorado, and was passed by the voters in 1992 PRECISELY because previous open space money was being raided for other uses. Our neighbors, Routt, Summit and Pitkin counties, all have dedicated open space funds. They’re growing smarter.
The funds we need can’t be raised solely by the small non-profit Eagle Valley Land Trust. Nor will they come from Eagle County’s general fund. No matter how well intentioned they may be, neither the Land Trust or our future county commissioners can ever be expected to raise the amounts of money needed to purchase the types of open places I’ve mentioned above. They’re expensive!
Will Rogers once said, “They aren’t making any more land.” He was right and so is our own historian, Dick Hauserman. Our last chance to “save” meaningful amounts of open space along I-70 and other valley floors is to pass Referendum 1H now. Otherwise, the land will be gone. FOREVER! For Eagle Valley residents, there won’t be a “next time.”
Andy Wiessner is a local conservationist and board member of the Eagle Valley and Wilderness Land Trusts.