Ranch preservation gets more money | VailDaily.com

Ranch preservation gets more money

Veronica Whitney

Conservationists across the state keep pledging money to block future development of the Bair Ranch at the eastern end of Glenwood Canyon.

This time, the Colorado Conservation Trust has committed $100,000 towards a $5 million effort to preserve 4,800 acres of the ranch, which straddles Eagle and Garfield counties. This is the fourth largest gift from an agency or nonprofit in the state for the project.

The grant, the largest among several that the Colorado Conservation Trust is awarding statewide, will go to the Eagle Valley Land Trust, a local group in charge of raising funds to buy a conservation easement on the ranch to prohibit future development.

The easement would protect 4,800 acres of the ranch -1,524 acres are in Garfield County and 3,306 acres in Eagle County.

“This new gift gives real momentum to the fund raising campaign undertaken by the Eagle Valley Land Trust,” said Tom Macy of The Conservation Fund, the group in charge of the preservation deal. He said that Will Shafroth, the director of the Colorado Conservation Fund, “knows a good project when he sees it.”

“The actions of a donor with a statewide perspective speak louder than any words a proponent can ever say,” Macy said.

Last week, The Conservation Fund applied for funding from Eagle County’s new open space tax. The Conservation Fund, which is seeking about $2 million in open space funds, is scheduled to appear before the Eagle County Open Space Advisory Committee on April 26 for a presentation. The committee will then make recommendations to the county commissioners whether Bair Ranch deserves from the open space tax, which is expected to generate $3 million a year.

The Colorado Conservation Trust chose Bair Ranch because it met all its criteria, said Shafroth, who has 23 years of experience in land preservation and is the former director of a former director of Great Outdoors Colorado, a state-funded land conservation agency.

“We have an opportunity to give money to projects of statewide significance and we chose the Bair Ranch because of its visibility and its ecological importance,” he said. “I’m comfortable with the mix of acquisition strategies in this project.”

Money for preservation, so far, comes from: the federal Bureau of Land Management, which has already committed $1.5 million to the project, and Great Outdoors Colorado, which has approved $1 million. The Eagle Valley Land Trust, a local nonprofit, has committed to raise about $1.3 million.

“We are really exited about the amount of support we are receiving for this project,” said Cindy Cohagen, executive director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust. “This new large pledge adds up to other ones we have received.”

The Land Trust has already has received $600,000 from Great Outdoors Colorado and $100,000 from the Gates Family foundation in Denver. Other contributions from locals in the valley amount to $60,000.

“We still need to raise $490,000, but these major contributions are tremendously important to us as we work to complete this project,” Cohagen said. “There’s another major contribution in the works that will be a challenge to the community. We anticipate that it will help us raise the remaining balance.”

“We are also hoping that Garfield County will find some money to help,” she added.

So far, the Garfield County commissioners have decided that they couldn’t offer any funds for the easement, said Garfield County Manager Ed Green. The county’s open tax funds are critical to the completion of the project, she added.

“We are counting on the Open Space Advisory Committee and the Eagle County Commissioners to value the project with the same enthusiasm we’re finding in organizations outside Eagle County,” Cohagen said.

The Colorado Conservation Trust is also pledging another $10,000 to expand the Eagle Valley land Trust’s programs.

“The Eagle Valley Land Trust is the key player for this transaction in the valley,” Shafroth said. “This is a big step for them in completing a big project in partnerships.”

Bair Ranch called big step for county

By Veronica Whitney

Daily Staff Writer

Despite support from conservationists across the state, the Bair Ranch preservation project has opponents. Some, such as Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone say most of the acreage preservationists want to preserve will not be open to the public.

Conservation groups want to spend $5 million on the protection 4,800 acres of the Glenwood Canyon ranch from future development. They are using a legal tool called a conservation easement, the purchase of which will also include 500 acres of ranch land along the Eagle River that will be open to the public.

“The most important part of the property, along the river, will be open to the public,” said Will Shafroth, executive director of the Colorado Conservation Trust, an organization involved in the project.

“It’s better to keep most of the property in private ownership and used for agricultural purposes,” Shafroth said. “There’s a cost issue. Not only would it be more expensive to buy the whole ranch … but it will cost more in the long run because you have to maintain it.”

The ranch is valued at about $17 million.

Preserving the Bair Ranch is an important step for Eagle County’s fledging open space program, which was approved by voters in 2002, Shafroth said.

“Conservation easements are important tools to accomplish the county’s open space and wildlife conservation goals,” he said. “Gunnison, Routt and Mesa counties have been using these easements for a long time.

“One of the reasons Eagle County hasn’t done it yet, is because it hasn’t had a funding source,” Shafroth added.

Time is of the essence when it comes to protect land, Shafroth said.

“If we don’t act in the next 10 years, then we will miss out on preserving what makes these places so special,” he said. “One of the biggest concerns we have is population growth. The state is to be 7 million people by 2030 and places like Eagle County are projected to grow significantly. If we want to maintain the quality of life we enjoy we need to make sure that places that help make these places special. So when an opportunity like the Bair Ranch comes up, you have to be creative in figuring out how to achieve the conservation goals.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

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