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Open space and your mind will follow

Tom Boyd

Congratulations to Arn Menconi and Peter Runyon for supporting the will of the people and voting to put $6 million toward preserving the natural heritage of our valley in a place where it matters most.About $3.8 million of that money was designated for open space already and it was used well.Don’t worry there will most likely be more money for open space which we can use on other pressing projects (but I’ll get to that in a minute).The remaining $2.2 million (roughly) pulled from general funds was worth it it will pay itself back in many ways (quality of life high among them) over the years.I also appreciate the sensible debate and dialogue among commissioners that preceded the vote. I even understood, but disagreed with, Tom Stone’s vote against the measure. Decisions of this nature aren’t always easy but they’re not going to get any easier.Everyone says they want to save open space, but when the time comes, there are always detractors who say the deal isn’t right, the deal isn’t perfect, or that the deal isn’t exactly the way they want it.Strangely, those same people have no problem supporting “imperfect” deals that promote haphazard development.Many of you, my readers, have approached me, vexed about my counterpart at the Vail Daily, Don Rogers. He is among those who applauded the Vail Valley Foundation when they made the bold move to save the Eaton parcel this past summer, only to turn around and whimsically slam the Foundation in recent weeks.I don’t know what to tell you.In his latest column, Rogers said a lot of things which I imagine he’d like to take back. He accuses us of being puppets of the Vail Valley Foundation and of being cattle led in a “stampede.” He claims that “emotion,” and not reason, won the day. These kind of thoughts, I imagine, can only come from a person who has very little emotion or passion for the river or the natural world. I don’t think Rogers is like that, so I’m baffled why he would say such things.Even if a person cares nothing for the spiritual power of open space, he should certainly be able to appreciate that the natural world is, fundamentally, the basis for all economies (especially ours). Again, I am baffled.But I don’t need to tell you about what Rogers said you can read it yourself online.However, I encourage you to skip his negativity. It isn’t representative of the majority of this community, and it certainly isn’t a contribution to the otherwise respectable discussion ongoing about open space.It is easy to save open space on the tippy-tops of all our mountains. But down in the valley floor is where we need it most. It will be expensive, and difficult, and imperfect, but in the end it will be worth it.As for some of the conspiracy theories currently being floated about Harry Frampton (mainly that he will eventually take all of the Eaton land for himself), I would like to remind you that Frampton is an honest individual and a sincere businessman. Rest assured, he and the Foundation are not out to hoodwink us.In fact, the Foundation’s new role in this endeavor opens up new possibilities for the future. Snowball their effort to save open space with the new political climate in county chambers, the New Dawn in Vail and Beaver Creek, and the improved atmosphere in Vail and Avon’s government, and, it seems, we have entered a kind of golden age for Eagle County.The economy’s engine is revving up, and sensible, intelligent people are at the wheel. We are blending environmental interests with economic ones and it’s proving much easier than people always thought.With all this in mind, it seems now is the right time to begin buying large portions of open space.Clearly, $3 million a year isn’t enough to do this.But there are other solutions.One possibility is to issue bonds that are backed by some of the existing open space tax revenues. This way, if you take $2 million of open space funds, and bond it, you can end up with about $40 million of buying power.One advantage of buying land now is that you take advantage of today’s prices, which historically have always escalated, and you also take advantage of our current low interest rates.Such a process has been suggested by Merv Lapin, Runyon, and Menconi among others and it holds a lot of promise.Lapin, of course, represents a group of investors that are looking at developing a 400-acre parcel near Eagle. About 40 percent of that land will remain open space (one way or another), but there are other portions of that land that could be conserved using open space funds.Lapin, like any sane businessman, would want to work out a good deal but he’s open to the idea.It seems Rogers’ premature fears that “other” lands won’t be protected should be put at ease (though I sense he will find some new complaint with each open space purchase).There will always be detractors. They will probably claim that we don’t want to end up like Boulder, because Boulder has painted itself into a corner by creating 40,000-some acres of open space. Their real estate prices and cost of living have gone too high, detractors will say, and we shouldn’t follow suit.But we’re not Boulder.We’re surrounded by mountains which limit us no matter what.As Commissioner Runyon said to me the other day, “If we do nothing to save open space, then in the long-term we’ll eventually run out of land and the prices will go up and we’ll have no open space. If we do something, on the other hand, we’ll run out of land and the prices will go up and we’ll HAVE open space.”Runyon, along with the majority of the people who live here, choose the latter. That’s why Runyon won the election, as did every other candidate in this county who is understood to have proactive intentions to preserve open space in this county. VTTom Boyd can be reached at tboyd@vailtrail.com.


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