Times are uncertain, but Sweetwater Lake purchase certainly attracts support
With $1 million in local donations and a Top 10 priority listing from the U.S. Forest Service, Save the Lake is doubling down on its campaign
Times are uncertain and so are finances, both the public and private varieties.
But the very uncertainties inherent in our COVID-19 landscape have the people involved with the effort to save Sweetwater Lake more committed than ever to rustle up more than $3 million needed to preserve the 488-acre property.
“Right now we need to double down,” said Bergen Tjossem, deputy director for the Eagle Valley Land Trust. “Because there is so much uncertainty in Congress with federal funding, that is the reason we need to raise as much local funding as possible.
The Eagle Valley Land Trust is shepherding the local preservation effort for the Sweetwater Lake deal. The price tag for the property is in excess of $9 million. There are dual fundraising efforts currently underway for purchase. The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit land conservation organization, is working with the White River National Forest to request a significant amount of the purchase price from the National Land and Water Conservation Fund. Additionally, there is a $3.5 million local fundraising campaign spearheaded by the land trust that would provide matching funds to spur the federal request.
“The local effort is going really well. The local funding challenge has passed the $1 million mark in donations and pledges,” said Tjossem.
Those donations and pledges are coming from individuals, businesses and local governments.
Making the Top 10
On top of strong local contributions, the Save the Lake campaign received some very good news last month when the project made the U.S. Forest Service’s Top 10 list for funding priorities in 2021.
“We have been waiting to see that list for a long time,” Tjossem said. “You definitely want to be in the Top 10. We came in at No. 9 of 36 priorities.”
Now the effort needs to capitalize on the USFS ranking, Tjossem said.
“It’s really good news, but it almost means we need to work even harder to generate local funding to supplement whatever funding we can get from the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” he continued. “The more funds we can raise, and the faster we can raise them, the more likely it is that this project will actually go through.”
Local community members — who have traveled to Sweetwater Lake for decades to fish, relax and hike to see the Indian cave drawings — are the most avid preservation supporters, Tjossem said.
“Anyone who has been around here long enough knows this property is kind of a hidden gem,” he said.
The private property around the lake is surrounded by public lands including the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.
“This property really has unlimited development potential but what our campaign is so grateful for is the current owners have decided to give conservation a chance,” Tjossem said.
As they search for money, the land trust is also looking for guidance, he continued.
“Throughout this campaign, we have been trying to listen to our community and understand the concerns they have,” Tjossem said. “We are looking for ways that we can continue to support the eventual managers of this property to make sure the management reflects the values of the community. The Forest Service is really receptive to that feedback from the community”
For more information about the Save the Lake effort visit https://evlt.org/join-us/savethelake/
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