Local creates challenge in conservation fund raising | VailDaily.com

Local creates challenge in conservation fund raising

Veronica Whitney
NWS Wiegers SM 4-2 Vail Daily/Shane Macomber George Wiegers, chairman of the Wiegers Family Foundation, has created a challenge to raise money for the Bair Ranch Preservation. It will donate fifty dollars for every donation to the Eagle Vally Land Trust.

To Vail resident George Wiegers, the preserving Bair Ranch is significant enough to offer a challenge he hopes will boost local fundraising for the project.

The Wiegers Family Foundation has pledged $50 for every contribution or pledge the Eagle Valley Land Trust receives for Bair Ranch, located at the eastern end of Glenwood Canyon. The Land Trust, a local nonprofit in charge of land preservation, is committed to raise $1.3 million to add to a $5 million campaign to protect 4,800 acres of the ranch from future development.

“I believe in the project; the location of the Bair Ranch is critical and preserving it as open space would be wonderful for the county,” said Wiegers, president of his family’s foundation. “It’s wonderful to sequester development rights and in this case it happens comparatively cheaply. There’s a lot of land for relatively not much money.

“The public will get the visual benefit at a fraction of the cost,” he added. “To me, it seems a bargain.”

The ranch, which straddles the border of Eagle and Garfield counties, has been appraised at about $17 million.

The Wiegers family has committed to making up to 1,000 contributions, totaling a potential $50,000.

“This challenge encourages broad community support,” said Eagle Valley Land Trust Director Cindy Cohagen. “This is a tremendously creative challenge and the Land Trust’s board is ecstatic that the Wiegers have this kind of foresight.

“We believe that the Bair Ranch project has brought community support and we’re optimistic that this challenge will encourage the community to step forward with a contribution, regardless of size, knowing that every gift will lead to a bigger gift,” she said.

The Wiegers’ challenge will be added to state, federal and conservation grants that have been secured for Bair Ranch.

Last month, the Colorado Conservation Trust announced a $100,000 donation to the Land Trust for Bair Ranch, which has also received $600,000 from Great Outdoors Colorado – which had pledged an additional $400,000 – and $100,000 from the Gates Family foundation in Denver. So far, other contributions from locals in the valley amount to $60,000.

“We still need to raise $390,000,” Cohagen said. “We hope the Wiegers challenge will raise funds and friends.”

The federal Bureau of Land Management has already committed $1.5 million to the project.

The Boulder-based Conservation Fund, which is spearheading the campaign, has applied for funding from Eagle County’s new open space tax. The Conservation Fund, so far the only applicant for the open space tax, is seeking about $2 million and is scheduled to appear before the Eagle County Open Space Advisory Committee on April 26.

The committee advised the county commissioners on whether Bair Ranch deserves money from the open space tax, which is expected to generate $3 million a year.

“I did it this way so that this should be a grassroots effort,” Wiegers said. “This will encourage the land trust to get as broad public participation as possible.”

The money raised for Bair Ranch will go toward purchasing a “conservation easement,” a legal tool that prevents future development.

Wiegers, a resident of Vail since 1986, said his family believes in conservation easements as tools to preserve land at a fraction of the cost.

This isn’t the first time that the Wiegers Foundation has contributed to preserving open space. Recently, the family and some neighbors put a conservation easement on four acres in Vail’s Potato Patch neighborhood.

“These easements are a wonderful way to have your cake and eat it, too,” Wiegers said. “The visual impact of the conservation easement is the essence of the experience.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

For more information on fund raising for Bair Ranch, call Cindy Cohagen at the Eagle Valley Land Trust at 328-1576.

Neighboring county pitches in

After saying last year it couldn’t help fund conservation of Bair Ranch, neighboring Garfield County is now backing financially the campaign to block development on the ranch that straddles the county line.

The Garfield County commissioners have approved a contribution of $25,000 of the county’s lottery money toward the purchase of a $5 million conservation easement, a legal tool that would prohibit further development on 4,800-acres of ranch, 1,524 of which are in Garfield County.

“We’ve been getting calls for months about the opportunity to protect this ranch,” Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt said.

The contribution from Garfield County shows tremendous support for the project since the government there, unlike Eagle County, doesn’t collect an open space tax, said Cindy Cohagen, executive director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust, the organization in charge of the local fund raising for Bair Ranch.

“This contribution is a significant amount for Garfield County,” she said. “Their commitment to the project decreases the amount of money we have to raise.”

The land trust, which has committed to raise $1.3 million, still has to raise $390,000, Cohagen said. “We have to have this money in place within the next 45 days,” she said.

Garfield County Commission Chairman John Martin joined Houpt in voting for the contribution. Commissioner Larry McCown, of Rifle, voted against it.

McCown said he received a lot of feedback from constituents in his part of the county, adamantly opposed to participating in the purchase of the conservation easement.

Martin said he quizzed owner Craig Bair about efforts to create a dude ranch business at Bair Ranch.

“Right now, (tours) are a way of keeping the wolf away,” Bair said, adding that plan isn’t intended to be the permanent financial solution. The family was forced to sell its sheep flocks by severe drought in 2002.

“Probably the smart thing to do would be to sell out to big development, take the money and move someplace else,” Bair said. “But I asked my six children what they would want and all wanted to keep the ranch.”

The conservation funds would buy out Bair’s brother’s share in the ranch.

Glenwood Post Independent reporter Jeremy Heiman contributed to this story.

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