Summit Co.: Rare plants protected in new open space
Summit County Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE ” Squishing along a soggy gravel road in Monte Christo Gulch, Summit County open space and trails director Brian Lorch points to a swath of high quality wetlands ” including rare fens ” recently protected from development.
Up until a few weeks ago, a property owner had plans to build up to 22 new homes on this 12-acre parcel on the flank of North Star Mountain.
“The development pressure was there,” Lorch said, explaining that the county’s latest open-space acquisition was aimed at preserving view corridors, rare wetlands and habitat for animals like lynx and boreal owls.
“These lots were approved and platted in the late 1960s, before regulations addressed issues such as wetlands, steep slopes, and view corridors,” said Summit County Commissioner Bob French. “Saving wetlands and natural areas is important to Summit County, and sometimes it is necessary to purchase them.”
The county partnered with the Town of Breckenridge on the $480,000 deal.
“Our money goes twice as far with Breckenridge as a partner,” French said.
Breckenridge open space planner Heide Anderson said the acquisition is a key piece of land that helps maintain the mountain corridor outside town.
“We are excited about this opportunity to preserve the gateway to Breckenridge from Hoosier Pass while protecting rare wetlands and natural habitat,” she said.
Much of the purchase price could be recouped through the sale of development rights from the land, Lorch said.
Through the county’s development-rights bank, a builder in Breckenridge could buy those rights and to an area where additional development is deemed more desirable.
Since 2001, the town and county have protected more than 4,000 acres of land with environmental and recreational values in the Upper Blue.
“That whole valley is pretty amazing,” said biologist Nancy Redner, who surveyed the area for rare plants. Redner said Monte Christo Gulch was singled out by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program as habitat for several endemic species ” plants that grow nowhere else.
“The whole wall of the canyon has fens, the most prized wetlands in Colorado,” Redner said.
Fen wetlands take thousands of years to form. They are critical to protecting water quality and moderating runoff by soaking up high flows in the spring and releasing the water slowly in the fall.
“It’s so valuable. It’s the filtering system for everybody’s watershed downstream. It’s the first line of defense for water quality.”
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