Trust Our Land: A piece of the Sweetwater puzzle | VailDaily.com
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Trust Our Land: A piece of the Sweetwater puzzle

Bergen Tjossem
Eagle Valley Land Trust
Sweetwater Lake
Tom Lotshaw | tlotshaw@vaildaily.com

Land is expensive. It’s one of the reasons conserving the properties that are most important to our community can be exceptionally difficult. Typically, large scale conservation projects, like Sweetwater Lake, require a diversity of funding sources and partners to move the project over the finish line. 

The United States Forest Service just released its annual list of acquisition priorities from across the country. Sweetwater Lake is No. 9 out of 36 — a high ranking thanks in large part to strong local support. The Forest Service sends this list of recommendations to the Congressional Appropriations Committee, which determines how to allocate annual funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The LWCF, which was permanently reauthorized last year, is generated by offshore oil and gas royalties. The LWCF provides the funding that federal agencies need to acquire new properties. 

That means the White River National Forest, the most visited national forest in the country, is one step closer to acquiring Sweetwater Lake, but there is still a long road ahead. Nothing is guaranteed until the money is in hand. Due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, anything could happen between now and an appropriation of dollars to national forests across the country, which could take a year.

The Save The Lake campaign is raising money to supplement possible funding from the LWCF to purchase the property and create a long-term stewardship fund. EVLT is working with the USFS and other agency partners to understand the vision of the local community, enhance the property’s amenities, and protect the natural and cultural resources. 

“Sweetwater ranking top 10 in the country isn’t a huge surprise to anyone that has visited the area — it is an incredible piece of land worthy of national distinction — but it’s a big step forward nonetheless. That said, this is not the time to relax our fundraising efforts and declare victory; Quite the opposite — it’s important to continue to raise funds now more than ever,” said Jessica Foulis, Eagle Valley Land Trust’s executive director. “For a project of this magnitude to be successful, we must pull together money from a variety of sources. Donations from individuals and grants from local businesses will continue to be key to completion of this project.” 

The Conservation Fund, the Eagle Valley Land Trust, and local stakeholders have been working diligently since early last fall to conserve this magnificent property once and for all. So far, the collaboration has raised over $1 million in cash and pledges towards the approximately $9.5 million project. If sufficient funding can be raised, The Conservation Fund will purchase the property, hold it until LWCF and additional funds are secured, and then transfer the property to the White River National Forest. The longer it takes to secure the funding, the greater the financial risk. 

“A top 10 ranking demonstrates the USFS’s support for Sweetwater Lake and gives us a critical boost during a challenging time for our country,” said Justin Spring, senior project manager with The Conservation Fund.

The continued support from our community is what has and will continue to move this conservation project forward. Visit http://www.evlt.org/savethelake to learn more and donate to the campaign to save Sweetwater Lake. 

Bergen Tjossem is the deputy director at the Eagle Valley Land Trust. He can be reached at Bergen@evlt.org. To learn more about EVLT’s conservation work, visit http://www.evlt.org.


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