Ranch conservation funds sought | VailDaily.com

Ranch conservation funds sought

by Veronica Whitney

Environmentalists involved in the fund-raising efforts to preserve Glenwood Canyon’s Bair Ranch said Thursday they’ll be ready for the closing by year’s end.

“We’re right on target with the fund-raising,” said Cindy Cohagen, of the Eagle Valley Land Trust. “So far, we have commitments that total into six figures. I’m truly excited about how far we’ve come to and the support we got.”

The land trust needs to raise $1.3 million to add to federal and state money to purchase a $5-million conservation easement on the 4,300-acre working ranch that straddles the border of Eagle and Garfield counties. The easement prohibits the land from ever being further developed.

“My fund-raising committee is confident we can achieve that goal,” Cohagen said of the closing date, which has been moved from Oct. 1 to December. “We haven’t launched our community fund-raising campaign yet, but we’ll do it in a couple of weeks.

“First we want to conclude our internal campaign, the close family and friends,” she said.

Eagle County commissioners agreed in July to contribute $2 million toward the purchase, though Commissioner Tom Stone voted against it. The federal government, through the Bureau of Land Management, already has committed $1.5 million to the project and the lottery-funded Greater Outdoors Colorado Program, also known as GOCO, has pledged $400,000.

The deal, however, became possible thanks to an additional pledge of $1.1 million from a group of county residents, who asked to remain anonymous.

Still, Cohagen said her intention is to raise the $1.3 million.

“Although that commitment is there, I don’t want to rely on it,” she said. “We will raise the money we still need to pay Craig Bair.”

Educating the community

Cohagen said she’s very optimistic about raising all needed funds, desipte the fact the Singletree Property Owners Association board decided earlier this month to withdraw a $25,000 donation to the project.

The withdrawal came after several Singletree residents complained about it.

Doug Crichfield, the association president, said the board decided to withdraw the funds because it didn’t “want the issue to be divisive in the community.”

“I was disappointed,” said Cohagen, who had only asked the Singletree homeowners association for a pledge. “We were in the process of arranging meetings with other associations to do presentations. But given the sentiment that came up at the Singletree meeting, we felt we needed time with the community in order to address the concerns that came up at that Singletree meeting.

“We need to spend time with the community to educate people on what a conservation easement is,” she said.

Don Cohen, a Singletree resident, who supports the Bair Ranch deal, said he had supported the $25,000 donation, but said under the circumstances the board acted responsibly.

“They listened to the residents,” he said. “I would have been O.K., but I believe the way it was set up wasn’t good. Our residents are very giving on issues of open space.”

Two years ago, the association committed funds to help with the proposed Vassar Meadows-Avon land swap, which is still in the works.

“Yes, the Bair Ranch is downvalley, but I take a view that we are all part of a larger neighborhood,” Cohen said.

First working ranch preserved

Though conservation easements have been used widely in other counties, they are a new concept in Eagle County, Cohagen said.

The Bair Ranch will be the first working ranch preserved in Eagle County.

“In Routt County, for example, about 25,000 acres of working ranches have been preserved from development,” Cohagen said.

A conservation easement makes it less expensive to preserve land, she added.

“Although you’re stripping the property of developing rights, it remains on the tax rolls and the owner is responsible for maintaining it,” she said.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at


Public should have degree of access

By Veronica Whitney

Although it’s not legally required, the public will have access to a portion of the Bair Ranch after a preservation deal is closed in October.

The Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, has made sure that part of the 4,300-acre ranch will have public access by acquiring a 512-acre river parcel.

The use of public money to purchase a $5 million “conservation easement” on the ranch has made several people, including Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone, question if it’s right – or even legal – to use public funds to preserve land that can’t be accessed by the public. The easement will limit development on the sheep ranch, ensuring it stays as open space in perpetuity.

“The conservation easement doesn’t provide for public access, but BLM wanted this component,” said John Beck, realty program leader for the Bureau of Land Management. “We didn’t ask for money just to acquire only an easement, but also some land.”

Federal money already has been appropriated and has been deposited in BLM accounts in Colorado, Beck said.

“The intent of the appropriation doesn’t include public access,” Beck said. “The easement isn’t meant to provide recreational facilities. In my experience with conservation easements, I’ve never received an appropriation contingent on allowing public access.”

In the Bair Ranch case, the plan all along has been to purchase 512 acres for the public and keep the rest under a conservation easement, Beck said.

“We wouldn’t acquire this land if we couldn’t allow the public to have access to get there. And the Bairs were willing to do that,” Beck said. “Once we acquire the land, there will be immediate access by river.”

A pedestrian access could also be developed in the future.

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