Eagle County Commissioners: County’s open space program still has work to do (column)
Acquiring, maintaining and permanently preserving open space — this is the mission of the Eagle County Open Space program. Since its creation, projects across the Eagle and Roaring Fork valleys have protected hundreds of acres of wildlife habitat and miles of river frontage, while providing access and connections to the outdoors that are vital to our quality of life.
These values are just as important now as ever, and we believe is it our responsibility to ensure the Open Space program continues. According to our recent polling and community survey, you agree.
The Eagle County Board of Commissioners, in consultation with our Open Space Advisory Committee, the Eagle Valley Land Trust and other partners, is considering asking voters to approve an extension of the existing open space tax in November. Originally approved in 2002, the 1.5 mill levy property tax will sunset in 2025. While community response has been very positive toward an extension, a few questions and themes have emerged that we’d like to address.
• Why now, when there are still years left before the sunset?
We need to plan for the future of the program. In the open space world, it is not unusual for acquisitions to take years, or even decades, to come to fruition. A longer planning horizon will allow us to ensure we maintain our existing properties while also looking ahead strategically at projects our community and our partners want to see completed.
• What types of properties will the program pursue?
Eagle County Open Space will continue its approach of ensuring a diverse portfolio. We have been very successful at creating a program that supports conservation, recreation and quality-of-life values.
Our wildlife advocates celebrate the protection of ranch areas as critical to animal populations. River enthusiasts are using our boat ramps in record numbers. Kids and families are walking, hiking and exploring neighborhood open space parcels. And hunters, backpackers, equestrians and off-highway vehicle users are getting out on to open lands beyond our properties through pass-through accesses we’ve created.
• What about the effect of open space on affordable housing?
We strongly believe our housing and open space programs can and should work together to ensure properties are put to their highest and best use. In addition to conservation potential, every property considered for open space is evaluated on overall community value, potential for partnerships, local sentiment and more. This consideration is not done in a vacuum. Done correctly, projects that address our housing and conservation needs will compliment, not compete with, each other.
We look forward to continuing to work with the community and our partners to further the success of our open space program. As always, we invite your comments and feedback on this or any other issue. Please contact us anytime at eagleadmin@eagle county.us or at 970-328-8605.
Jill Ryan, Kathy Chandler-Henry and Jeanne McQueeney are Eagle County commissioners.