Open space focus narrows in Eagle County |

Open space focus narrows in Eagle County

Red Dirt Canyon was one of the open space purchases made in the last two years. After completing a dozen deals in the last two and a half years, open space acquisitions will move slightly slower in 2014, but is still protecting open space.
John Fielder | Special to the Daily | John Fielder | Special to the Da

Eagle County will still buy open space this year, just not as much, says the county’s open space director.

The county completed 12 projects in the past two and a half years, and that leaves the open space account with about $2.5 million in it.

We did get a lot of land for our money, says Toby Sprunk, Eagle County’s open space director.

Those dozen projects during those past 2.5 years have protected 4,000 acres of land, pushing the total number of protected acres to more than 10,000, Sprunk said. Part of that is four new river access and boat launch sites and one new trailhead, with more planned for 2014.

That’s the good news.

The other side of that coin is that the coins are dwindling. That’s the cost of success, Sprunk said.

“The open space fund balance has been somewhat depleted, and that leaves approximately $2.5 million for projects in 2014,” Sprunk said.

That includes $1.1 million in grant funds that Great Outdoors Colorado owes Eagle County.

Several potential sellers are approaching the open space committee, looking for a slice of that pie.

Sprunk met with the county commissioners Tuesday morning in a private session to discuss several of those potential projects. Colorado’s open meetings law allows public bodies to go into closed-door sessions to discuss negotiations for real estate deals.

Many of those proposed parcels have “significant conservation and recreation benefits,” Sprunk said.

Of course, they’re smaller projects with smaller price tags, Sprunk said.

The county’s Open Space Acquisitions Committee is familiar with all of them and has given the tentative nod to explore further, Sprunk said.

They don’t have solid numbers yet because they haven’t appraised the properties as of now. In the absence of appraisals, they can only discuss potential purchases in vague conceptual ways with landowners, Sprunk said.

“Of course, many sellers have an inflated sense of what their property is worth,” he said.

Great Outdoors Colorado

Money from Great Outdoors Colorado might be available this year, but GOCO grants will be tougher to get than they have been in years past, Sprunk said. GOCO is funded by sales of Colorado state lottery tickets.

“While they are always interested in Eagle County’s projects, they have cautioned that the first round of 2014 grant proposals will likely be extremely competitive,” Sprunk said.

The soonest they’ll even submit a grant request is this fall, he said.

Many consider the Eagle River Land Exchange the crown jewel of the open space program.

That one was six properties representing approximately 1,560 acres of open space in Avon and Edwards, and involved eight public and private entities at the local, state and federal level.

The county’s open space fund came up with the majority of the funding, $5.3 million.

Acquiring the 1,000-acre Colorado River Ranch and 230-acre Red Dirt Creek was part of an effort to expand river recreation in western Eagle County, Sprunk said.

Those acquisitions add 3.7 miles of public access to the Colorado River north of Dotsero. A working ranch straddles the river.

Eagle County voters approved an open space tax in 2002. It’s added to the property tax bill paid by Eagle County property owners. Most years, the open space fund currently collects nearly $4 million a year.

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