Nearly $54,000 in GOCO grants is headed to Eagle County for open space, schoolhouse stabilization | VailDaily.com

Nearly $54,000 in GOCO grants is headed to Eagle County for open space, schoolhouse stabilization

EAGLE COUNTY ­— Two projects in Eagle County have netted nearly $54,000 in Great Outdoors Colorado grant money.

Eagle Valley Land Trust received a $33,399 grant to cover closing costs associated with the conservation of the Minturn Boneyard Open Space. Sylvan Lake State Park received $20,000 to restore a historic schoolhouse in disrepair.

These dollars represent the latest Great Outdoors Colorado investments in Eagle County. Great Outdoors Colorado, which is funded through the Colorado Lottery, has invested more than $30 million in Eagle County and conserved more than 3,000 acres of land locally. Past projects include the Eagle County Outdoor Movement, Hardscrabble Ranch Open Space and the Eagle to Horn Ranch Open Space trail.

Minturn Boneyard

For the Minturn Boneyard project, the land trust will acquire a conservation easement on the 4.39-acre Minturn Boneyard Open Space, which is owned by the town of Minturn. One quarter-mile of the property is located along the Eagle River, which is some of the last remaining riverfront land with public access in the town. It also has several walking trails and a fishing access point for public use.

The town purchased the land with financial assistance from Eagle County in 2013 in order to protect public access to the river and other resources. The property is attractive to private land developers due to its location and housing potential, and without a conservation easement, there was a possibility that it could be sold for this purpose if it was put on the market in the future.

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"Generally when you do a conservation easement, there are fees involved, so it takes a certain amount of money to get a conservation easement done," said Tom Edwards, Eagle Valley Land Trust board member.

Edwards said because the Great Outdoors Colorado board recognized the importance of completing the conservation easement at the Boneyard site, members were willing to come up with funding to make it happen.

To date, this is the only project involving publicly owned land that has been funded under the transaction costs grant program.

"GOCO was compelled by the opportunity to protect the last parcel in town that could provide public access to the river," said Rosemary Dempsey, Great Outdoors Colorado director of communications.

The land trust grant is part of Great Outdoors Colorado's conservation easement transaction costs grant program, which provides funds to help landowners place donated conservation easements on their land. A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement by landowners to permanently conserve their property, removing the threat of future development while it remains in private ownership.

"GOCO created this grant program to make sure land with significant ecological, scenic or recreational benefit is not vulnerable to development because of landowners' financial limitations," Dempsey said. "While many conservation projects are completed in Colorado without GOCO's assistance, closing costs associated with placing a conservation easement can be a barrier for landowners wishing to conserve their properties."

Upper Brush Creek Schoolhouse

The $20,000 grant to Sylvan Lake State Park is part of Great Outdoors Colorado's Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director's Innovation Fund, a partnership between Great Outdoors Colorado and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to create a funding source for one-time, innovative projects that would not otherwise receive funding from either organization.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife receives half of Great Outdoors Colorado's funding each year for statewide programs, wildlife and state parks through an annual investment proposal; however, many innovative, small-dollar projects fall outside current funding parameters.

Sylvan Lake is partnering with the Eagle County Historical Society and HistoriCorps to stabilize the Upper Brush Creek Schoolhouse, which was built in 1916 and is one of the only remaining one-room schoolhouses in Colorado on public land. A grassroots, community-driven effort succeeded in getting the schoolhouse listed with the National Register of Historic Places in 2015, but the structure is in dire need of repairs before it collapses and can no longer be part of educational programs and guided hikes.

"We are putting a roof on the schoolhouse, that's the main thing. We will also try to stabilize the front porch," said Michael Wall, Sylvan Lake State Park manager. "By putting up a new, historically accurate roof, it will help make that structure survive a lot longer."

The project is called a "stabilization" rather than a "restoration," partly because the effort is aimed at keeping the schoolhouse from falling down, not at making the historical building accessible. The schoolhouse will continue to be fenced off from park visitors.

In an interview earlier this year, Eagle County Historical Society President Kathy Heicher said the structure is an important part of the valley's past.

"Schoolhouses were more than a place for children to be educated," she said. "They also served as community centers for the rural ranching communities. That's where the community meetings, potluck suppers and dances were held."

Crews from HistoriCorps, a volunteer-led organization that specializes in restoring historic sites, will replace and reinforce the schoolhouse roof and stabilize the porch to prevent the entire structure from collapsing.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife plans to have the restoration project complete by 2020.