Vail Daily column: Land Trust celebrates 35 years | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Land Trust celebrates 35 years

Kathy Heicher of the Eagle County Historical Society explains the history of the Horn Ranch and its famous stone quarry. This 303 acres was conserved permanently by Eagle County in partnership with the Eagle Valley Land Trust and offers approximately one mile of Eagle River fishing access.

Just like we human beings, organizations sometimes use milestone anniversaries to take stock. The Eagle Valley Land Trust is celebrating 35 years of conservation this year, and we are taking this opportunity to reflect on our history and consider our future.

In 1981, a handful of citizens formed the Eagle Valley Land Conservancy. That year, Vail Resorts (then Vail Associates) was 19 years old, the town of Vail was 15 and Beaver Creek had just opened. The Vail Valley was blossoming into a year-round destination with world-class skiing, rafting, golf, trails and burgeoning cultural offerings, all against the backdrop of the forests, mountains, rivers and ranches of Eagle County. With 80 percent of the county in public lands thanks to the U.S. Forest Service, wilderness areas, and other federal agencies, what was the urgency for protecting local land? Even though Eagle County's population was just over 13,000, the Front Range was reeling from rapid growth in the late 1970s through 1980s. Visionary citizens understood the need to get out in front of the development pressures from the inevitable tidal wave of population growth that was sure to come, in order to protect the valley's special places.

Early Years

The early years were devoted to building the organization and relationships. The first conservation easement donation came in 1993, the 59-acre Johnson property west of Brush Creek Road in Eagle, providing important habitat as well as a buffer between Eagle and Eagle Ranch. By the early 2000s, the organization, now known as the Eagle Valley Land Trust, was actively collaborating with a variety of public and private partners to raise funds for open space conservation. The Eagle Valley Land Trust began to establish its unique role in the conservation landscape as the private nonprofit holder of perpetual conservation easements, ensuring protection forever. The Eagle Valley Land Trust gets no public funding, but was a strong advocate for the Eagle County Open Space program, and since passage of the 1.5 mill levy property tax in 2002, the Eagle Valley Land Trust has partnered with Eagle County on 13 properties, including Bair Ranch, Horn Ranch and West Avon Preserve.

Providing for future

Today, the Eagle Valley Land Trust holds 30 conservation easements, accounting for over 7,700 acres, 1,600 publicly accessible and 22 miles of trail in partnerships with Eagle County, town of Vail, the town of Avon and town of Eagle. In addition, the Eagle Valley Land Trust partners with Walking Mountain Science Center and other local nonprofits for education and outreach with local kids to help build appreciation, enjoyment and a sense of stewardship in our future leaders. The Eagle Valley Land Trust's professional staff worked hard to be among the first land trusts to earn the national Land Trust Alliance's accreditation.

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Looking forward, even as we savor our successes, we know that there is much work to be done. By 2040, Colorado is expected to gain 2.3 million people, growing to 7.8 million, and Eagle County is projected to see an additional 41,000. The "age wave" is coming as Baby Boomers retire, portending increased demand for second homes and services in the valley, not to mention additional medical tourism demands, exacerbating the already tough affordable housing and transportation situation.

Climate change impacts are predicted to bring increasing frequency and severity of weather events, such as floods, fire, forest diseases and the warming temperatures mean that the areas where certain plants and animals thrive will shrink and creep into higher elevations.

Sometimes it takes a picture to tell a story. The Eagle Valley Land Trust created the Interstate 70 Two-Mile Buffer map, illustrating that more than two of every three acres of non-federal land within two miles of the I-70 corridor has been developed or subdivided.

Where you come in

All of this means that we all face critical decisions about our precious remaining undeveloped lands. So here is where you come in. Staff and board are in the process of creating a strategic plan to guide us through the next three to five years, and we need your help. Where should we focus our efforts? What properties are too valuable for development? What iconic scenic views are too precious to lose? Where are the working ranches that need protection? What about the increasingly critical wildlife migration corridors and habitat for mating and rearing their young? And of course, human needs for recreation and solitude near our homes and work — trails and river corridor access?

Please view the map and some thought-provoking questions at http://bit.ly/1RkvM6t, and let us know what lands you would like to see preserved, forever, by sending your thoughts to info@evlt.org. Thank you for supporting the Eagle Valley Land Trust and, in so doing, our quality of life, our legacy to future generations, recreational opportunities, the views, working ranches and all of the natural values we cherish in Eagle County.

Tina Nielsen is a member of the Eagle Valley Land Trust board of directors.