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Ron Wolfe: Open-space deal good for locals

Ron Wolfe

A major step forward in protecting our quality of life and recreational opportunities has been taken through the multi-party land exchange and protection plan announced last Friday.

Thanks to the vision and leadership of County Commissioner Peter Runyon, five entities have joined together to permanently protect 2,100 acres of wildlife habit, view corridors, buffers between communities and public recreational areas right here on the valley floor. Every county and town community survey indicates these are the top rated values of voters. The Forest Service, Colorado State Land Board, Avon, Eagle County and the Eagle Valley Land Trust have come together in an unprecedented cooperation. This will bring reality to some of what we all are striving to achieve environmentally, recreationally and in our development planning efforts.

Good community planning requires a balance between growth, the environment and quality of life. Sometimes called “smart growth,” good planning requires new commercial and residential projects to be dense; to be located near existing development, utilities, roads, public transit and other public infrastructure, to include parks trails and open space and to not create new isolated projects. Eagle County and most towns have adopted these concepts as part of their development philosophy and this plan supports them.

Just completed, an Urban Land Institute study of the Eagle-Vail community concluded that these same principles should be applied to future redevelopment of this area, which includes property owned by the State Land Board. Eagle County recognized that maximizing the use of that area will be in the best interest of the County and surrounding communities.

The Town of Avon has separately and actively pursued the protection from development of two key Forest Service parcels for more than two decades. More recently, we have been working on a land exchange with the Forest Service to permanently protect 470 acres between Wildridge and Singletree and 80 acres north of I-70. These parcels are currently owned by the Forest Service, and Avon already has had them appraised for an exchange and has been working toward that end. The town is engaged in a trail restoration project with the Forest Service on the 470 acres and is committed to taking on the conservation and stewardship of these lands.

These parcels are part of the plan and will be used for low impact public use keeping in balance development, open space and recreation in Avon.

The reality of such a diverse group, with their specific missions and values, ever being able to come together may seem improbable at first. Peter had been working with the Forest Service, the Land Board and the Edwards community for several years on protecting the critical pieces of land there, and was watching Avon’s parallel efforts and our presentation of an exchange plan to Eagle County’s Open Space Committee. He pointed out the opportunities for synergy and collaboration:

” The public process used to create the master plan of Avon identified that preserving visual and physical buffers between established communities is of significant public value. This was confirmed by a recent town survey in which full-time home owners, full-time renters and second-home owners all placed open space, preservation of views and availability of hiking trails among their top priorities for the town.

” Eagle County voters demonstrated their commitment to open space in 2002 and approved a ballot question to fund the acquisition and/or protection of open space. In the recent quality of life survey, respondents further demonstrated that citizens of Eagle County more than ever value open space and the acquiring and preservation of land for this purpose.

” The Colorado State Land Board is responsible for achieving both economic productivity on lands held in trust for the support of public schools and for sound stewardship of these lands, including protecting and enhancing the beauty, natural values, open space and wildlife habitat for current and future generations. As part of this responsibility, the Land Board manages its lands in the path of development appropriately.

” The Eagle Valley Land Trust is dedicated to preserving open lands for agriculture, wildlife and scenic beauty in the greater Eagle River Valley. As such, the Land Trust negotiates and facilitates land exchanges, purchases and conservation easements that add to protected public lands and protect private lands from development.

The Land Trust holds conservation easements as an impartial steward of their provisions. To date, the Land Trust has helped protect more than 10,000 acres of land in the region.

The work of the Land Trust is supported entirely by charitable contributions.

In recognizing our individual and shared values and objectives, the multi-party land exchange was proposed as being of mutual benefit and of great significance to all constituents.

Ron Wolfe is the mayor of Avon. E-mail comments about this column to letters@vaildaily.com.


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