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In praise of preservation – Eagle Valley Land Trust

Veronica Whitney
Bret Hartman / Vail DailyCindy Cohagen, director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust, is helping the Vail Valley Foundation with the Eaton Ranch open space project.
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EAGLE COUNTY ” Four years of labor to preserve thousands of acres at the Bair Ranch in Glenwood Canyon won the Eagle Valley Land Trust the 2004 nonprofit of the year award, said Frank Johnson, president of the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau,

This year, the land trust successfully led the effort to preserve as open space the 4,830-acre Bair Ranch, which is on the border of Eagle and Garfield counties. In less than nine months, the nonprofit raised over $1.3 million toward for $5.1 million preservation deal.

“It’s a really good choice because the land trust has been one of the few agents in this valley trying to protect and preserve land,” said Diana Cecala, of the Eagle County Citizens for Open Space, a group that campaigned for an open space tax approved by voters in 2002.

The tax raises about $3 million a year.

“It’s wonderful they are getting some recognition,” Cecala said. “The culture in the West has traditionally been geared for exploitation of resources. The valley has been a perfect example.

“Against all this,” she added, “the land trust has been fighting a lonely battle to preserve land that other people want to use as a commodity.”

Preserving open space

The Bair Ranch campaign certainly demonstrated the land trust’s commitment to their mission, which is to preserve open space, said Cindy Cohagen, director of the organization.

“Land preservation takes a lot of work and time ” it could take from a couple months to years to close a deal,” Cohagen said. “It’s a lot of work.”

The land trust first started talking to the owners of the Bair Ranch in 2000, she said.

“I’m exited we were able to get that job done,” Cohagen added. “It will forever make a difference to the landscape of Eagle County.”

The land trust now holds 12 so-called “conservation easements,” a legal tool by which the land trusts purchases development rights for a piece of land and bars any future construction. These lands stretch from East-Vail down Interstate 70 to Bair Ranch.

Avon Mayor Ron Wolfe, who is also chairman of the Eagle County Open Space Advisory, recommended the Bair Ranch receive money from the open space tax.

“They’re an excellently run organization,” said Wolfe, whose committee advises the Eagle County Board of Commissioners on funding open space deals. “They do a superb job in bringing together all the various groups and individuals that make up a complicated land deal like the Bair Ranch project.”

Tom Macy, president of The Conservation Fund of Boulder, worked closely with the land trust to complete the Bear Ranch deal.

“It was a great crew to work with,” he said. “It was an excellent partner in a tough, complicated real estate transaction to protect the Bair Ranch. They rolled up their sleeves to raise the money and we had a successful year.”

Cohagen credited the Bair Ranch success to the land trust’s board of directors.

“Our biggest challenge with the Bair Ranch was getting the community to understand the importance of this property and how a conservation easement can be used to protect the land,” Cohagen said.

The land trust’s biggest project this year is the preservation of the Edwards’ Eagle River Preserve, also known as the Eaton Ranch, Cohagen said. The land trust will be work with another nonprofit group, the Vail Valley Foundation, on the project.

“(The Bair Ranch) was truly an initiation into a large project,” Cohagen said. “I hope what was accomplished was to create community awareness and for the community to value open space that remains in Eagle County. It is truly a resource that is at risk.”

Local impact

Nominees for the nonprofit of the year award were evaluated on several criteria including service to their constituency, involvement with the local business community, community impact, quality of contribution to the local community, fulfillment of mission, reputation of the organization and financial viability, said Johnson, of the Chamber and Tourism Bureau.

Only 2004 accomplishments were taken into account. Finalists for the award in 2004 included the Vail Valley Charitable Fund and the Vail Symposium.

In 2003, the winner was Bravo! Musical Festival which won for bringing the New York Philharmonic to Vail.

Staff Writer Veronica Whitney can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 454 or vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

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