Vail Daily column: Take a winter stroll on the Eagle River Preserve | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Take a winter stroll on the Eagle River Preserve

One of the resident bald eagles of the Eagle River Preserve accompanied my crisp morning stroll. Winging up river, my eyes followed this beautiful bird as it lumbered calmly by. What a way to start the day. Fresh snow blanketed the ground and mist rose from the ice-patched river.

If you haven't had a chance to visit the Eagle River Preserve in Edwards, then winter is a fine time to enjoy this local gem. In a collaborative effort between Eagle Valley Land Trust, Eagle County Open Space, the Vail Valley Foundation, and Great Outdoors Colorado, this 72-acre property was preserved in 2005. The Eagle River Preserve is an easily accessed "Central Park" for Eagle County residents and visitors and is within easy walking distance from Edwards-area neighborhoods and shopping areas.

With nearly one-half mile of the Eagle River and approximately two miles of flat and gently-sloping trails, you can quickly access the property to enjoy low-impact recreational uses such as a quiet stroll, snowshoe or cross-country ski. Use of this open space property is free to the public.

Frequently, deer and elk can be found on the property, especially in the winter. Bird watching is also possible among the trees along the river and as hawks patrol the fields for winter prey.

While dogs are required to be leashed to protect the sensitive habitat and animals, dog owners can enjoy an off-leash dog park in the northeast corner of the property just behind Alpine Bank.

This property is preserved for the benefit of our community forever by the Eagle Valley Land Trust, your local partner in land conservation. Working collaboratively with Eagle County government and other funding sources, Eagle Valley Land Trust has forever conserved over 7,700 acres right here in Eagle County.

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The property was purchased by Eagle County as open space and partly funded (see fun facts below) by the Eagle County Open Space fund. The land trust was granted a conservation easement on the property to ensure all funders and taxpayers that the property's conservation values and public benefits are preserved forever.

How to Get to the Preserve

There are two entrances to the Eagle River Preserve. One entrance is between Marko's Pizza and Alpine Bank. The other is off of U.S. Highway 6, half way between the Gashouse and the Wildflower Farm.

Fun facts

• Only half of the purchase price for this property came from Eagle County Open Space tax funds, with the remainder of the funds coming from private donations raised through other funding sources, such as the Vail Valley Foundation and Great Outdoors Colorado.

• Originally a home for native Americans living along the river, the property later had a railroad and stage stop (see below for more information about the cabin) and was used as a ranch. Just prior to its acquisition for open space, large portions of the property between the treed area along the river and U.S. Highway 6 were used as a huge gravel pit that helped build roads and buildings up and down the valley. The land was restored by the operator including importing top soil, planting native grasses, providing irrigation and creation of ponds. Each year, the property blossoms into an improved condition from prior years.

• The beautiful cabin located on the property has a rich history. It was constructed in 1909 as a railroad rooming house. It was later used as a stage stop and finally as a homestead and ranching residence for the Hawley, Thomas and Eaton families. The cabin was moved to its present location and restored with funds from the Edwards Metro District. The intended use for the building includes educational programs about the land conservation, history, and ecology of the site.

Eagle Valley Land Trust was founded in 1981 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit environmental conservation organization and is state certified and nationally accredited. The mission of the land trust is to protect forever our scenic vistas, open spaces, historic lands, waterways and wildlife habitats that represent the uniqueness of Eagle County, Colorado and the Central Rocky Mountains for the education, enjoyment and benefit of people who experience this special place.

The land trust permanently protects 30 parcels (more than 7,700 acres) of land for the benefit of the public. These properties stretch from East Vail to the entrance of Glenwood Canyon and from Tennessee Pass near Leadville to Yarmony Mountain near the Routt County border. For more information about EVLT, please visit http://www.evlt.org.

Jim Daus is the executive director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust.