Where and how should we preserve open space in Eagle County? | VailDaily.com

Where and how should we preserve open space in Eagle County?

Melanie Wong
Vail CO, Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” What is the best way to preserve the county’s open space?

Area leaders hope to answer that question with the help of people who have one of the most successful open space programs in the state.

Representatives from Boulder County Parks and Open Space talked to local government officials, wildlife experts and open space advocates in March at the county’s open space summit.

Boulder’s program began in the mid-1960s. Now more than 65 percent of the the county’s land is government protected, and the program has acquired almost 89,000 acres of open space.

One of the program’s strategies is getting the cooperation of the county and all the towns, who make formal agreements about what land they want to preserve and where development can occur. When funds become available, from property taxes, lottery funds and the county’s open space sales tax, the “flagged” land can be purchased.

This area is just getting started with open space work, said Cindy Cohagen of the Eagle Valley Land Trust.

The issue is becoming increasingly more important to residents, as shown in recent quality of life surveys done by the county, she said.

“We’re addressing these issues kind of late in the game, when many areas have already been developed,” she said.

Also, while Boulder has a 30-year head start and set funds for open space, our area is still working out funding sources, she said.

However, everyone at the summit was very interested in working together to find solutions.

“That’s what gives me hope. This takes time, patience, and persistance,” she said.

Over the next six weeks, the Eagle Valley Land Trust will be holding public meetings so ask residents what they would like to see preserved. The organization will also be talking with different governments and towns to get their take, Cohagen said.

During the summit meeting, everyone had a map of the area and flagged three areas they would preserve if they had $40 million, said Cohagen.

Avon Mayor Ron Wolfe said he would like to see areas closer to the valley floor preserved, as opposed to more remote locations like Gates Ranch.

Gates Ranch is a 740-acre conservation easement near Burns that was bought by county and state grants, as well as many private donors. The deal closed in December 2007, meaning the land will remain undeveloped forever.

Wolfe said he wants to preserve Wolcott, the land east of Eagle, and the 480 acres between Avon and Singletree.

It is important for residents to have access to open space and for visitors to see open views and roaming animals, he said. Also, development on the valley floor pushes out wildlife that depend on the valley’s shelter during the winter, he said.

“It’s important that people don’t see wall-to-wall development. When they come out here, they should think, ‘Gee, I really am out here in the West,'” Wolfe said.

Wolfe said he also supports sharing money for buying open space. If Eagle wants to preserve the land east of town, there is no reason why Avon shouldn’t help them out in purchasing the land, he said.

County Commissioner Sara Fisher said she would like to preserve the area around Colorado River Road, the land around U.S. Highway 6 between Eagle and Red Canyon, and land around Minturn.

“As for the valley floor, I’d love to preserve it all, but it is much more expensive land. Also, for land around the river corridor, once it’s developed, there’s no turning back,” she said.

Fisher said she is interested in not only where to designate open space, but also where to put development. Commercial development can be strategically placed to minimize sprawl and allow towns to share the sales tax revenue, she said.

County planners and town officials are working on re-drafting the county’s open space plan, which sets the goals for open space policy.

County Commissioner Peter Runyon said the goal is to eventually make an intergovernmental agreement with all the valley’s towns like Boulder County did.

“It’s something we need work toward. Boulder went through something like 37 versions of it before they came up with a something everyone liked. That’s what we need to do,” he said.

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