Jessica Foulis takes the helm at Eagle Valley Land Trust
Foulis succeeds Jim Daus, who led the local nonprofit for the last five years
EDWARDS — As an undergraduate student in the wildlife sciences program at Virginia Tech, the Eagle Valley Land Trust’s new executive director Jessica Foulis made an important discovery.
The students in the program were about evenly split between people interested in wildlife management careers and people interested in biological research.
“I discovered what was really needed was people to communicate wildlife issues to the general public,” Foulis said.
That discovery subsequently shaped her personal and career trajectory. She ultimately earned a master’s degree in Human Dimensions of Natural Resources from Colorado State University and went to work for Walking Mountains Science Center. For the past four years, she has managed the Eagle Valley Land Trust’s outreach and stewardship programs.
Earlier this month the land trust made the formal announcement that Foulis would succeed Jim Daus, who stepped down from the executive director post late last year.
“Thanks to Jim’s incredible leadership over the past five years, EVLT is in a great position,” Foulis said. “From here, the possibilities for partnership and conservation are endless. Our work to protect the lands that matter most to our community is more important than ever.”
“Jessica’s expertise in community conservation, partnership building, and land stewardship, along with the local knowledge and relationships she’s built in Eagle County over the last decade have allowed her to start her new role in the fast lane,” noted the EVLT announcement.
“I really love the mission of the land trust because it is for everybody,” Foulis said.
The organization’s stated mission is “to protect 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.” The way that’s accomplished is through creating partnerships.
As Foulis notes, the land trust is not associated with any government entity and the organization doesn’t actually own or maintain any land. But the EVLT does work in collaboration with local, regional, state and national partners to preserve significant land in Eagle County. The land trust works with landowners, on a totally voluntary basis, to protect property.
Protection methods include everything from donation to sale to a conservation easement. In the case of that final option, the land trust is organized to exist in perpetuity as the entity that holds the easement. Foulis noted that currently, the organization holds 36 conservation easements for more than 11,000 acres.
“We are the mechanism that makes sure a property is preserved forever,” she said.
The scope of preserved lands in Eagle County continues to widen. The land trust was recently involved in the Ridgway Ranch deal, which brought in an additional 129 acres to the Brush Creek Ranch and Open Space south of Eagle. Another big project is the Save the Lake campaign.
The EVLT is shepherding the local preservation effort for the Sweetwater Lake deal. The price tag for the 488-acre property is in excess of $9 million. There are dual fundraising efforts currently underway for purchase. The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit land conservation organization, is working with the White River National Forest to request a significant amount of the purchase price from the National Land and Water Conservation Fund. Additionally, there is a $3.5 million local fundraising campaign spearheaded by the land trust that would provide matching funds to spur the federal request.
As part of their fundraising push, representatives from the Eagle Valley Land Trust note that for decades, Sweetwater Lake Resort functioned as a quasi-public amenity. However, after a development proposal to build more than 240 homes and an 80-room hotel and golf course at the site failed, an investor group took over ownership and shut down access to the lake and cabins and listed the property for sale. The Denver-based group has agreed to give conservation and the Conservation Fund secured a contract to purchase the property from the sellers amid competing bids from private developers.
A partnership consisting of the Conservation Fund, the Eagle Valley Land Trust, the U.S. Forest Service and community partners has the collective goal to prevent the private development of Sweetwater Lake Resort. Eventually, the property would be sold to the Forest Service and integrated into the surrounding White River National Forest.
“The campaign for Sweetwater is super exciting,” Foulis said. “The community came to us with it and it’s always great to answer a need there.”
The Sweetwater campaign is also an example of the type of work Foulis most enjoys.
“I love supporting landowners in our community to protect our individual and collective legacies,” she said. “We have a terrific team with Eagle Valley Land Trust, our partner organizations both locally and statewide and our community members. We live in a very generous community.”
Connections to the land
On the topic of legacy, Foulis brings a bit of personal history to her work. While she was raised in Virginia, her family often visited Colorado. Her father is a third-generation Colorado native.
“My ancestors came here for the healing nature of the mountains,” she said. That’s a legacy she now works to protect through both land deals and land trust initiatives such as its Future Conservationist and Community Land Connection Series programs. Those offerings are free and open to the public.
“I believe it is really important to connect the community to its preserved land,” Foulis said.
To learn more about the Eagle Valley Land Trust, visit the organization’s website at evlt.org.