Locals celebrate wetlands conservation
Snowshoes, hot soup and plenty of wine were the order of the night in recognition of the great strides taken by many to preserve a piece of land atop Tennessee Pass from imminent development – and thereby save its precious habitat.
Two parcels of land, about halfway between Red Cliff and Leadville on U.S. Highway 24, were recently put into a conservation easement, which indefinitely protects them from further development. Among those behind the achievement is Marjorie Westermann, who co-owned the land and bought it from her partner.
She now lives in one of the only houses for miles on end, surrounded by the wetlands she fought to protect. She stood to make a great profit from development of the land, but according to friend and Eagle River Watershed Council director Caroline Bradford, profit is not a priority to Westermann.
“Fragmenting this land (for development) would be a terrible disruption to the habitat,” said Bradford. “It would be a huge challenge to the unique values of the wetlands. Marjorie passed up an opportunity for great wealth by not developing. She is, as they say, land rich if money poor.”
Others honored at the party included Tom Page, whose praises Westermann freely sings. Page, a project manager for the Eagle Valley Land Trust and the Eagle River Watershed Council, was by all accounts the driving force behind the success of the conservation.
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“Without Tom, this would not have happened,” said Westermann.
According to Bradford, it is Page’s all-inclusive conservation vision that made him such an asset to the process. “His vision in identifying important parcels to preserve does not leave out the smaller pieces of land,” said Bradford. “No, we could not have done this without him.”
Page agrees that focusing on smaller pieces of land is an important tactic in the conservation process. “For one, it costs so much less to preserve smaller parcels,” said Page. “This cost about 10 percent of what a usual easement would cost, but the land is invaluable nonetheless.”
Bradford said the money to purchase the easement came from private contributions from conservation-minded individuals, a Great Outdoors Colorado lottery grant, and a contribution from the Eagle Natural Resources Damage fund.
Yet on the night of Jan. 30, number crunching was put aside to celebrate the efforts of many to preserve the natural habitat of so many more. As the group set off on the moonlit snowshoe tour across the preserved land, oohhs and ahhs permeated the ponderous silence blanketing the isolated land.
And, thanks to those praised at the gathering, such wonderment will be on tap and remain untouched for generations.