Mike McKibbin

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June 13, 2012
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Open space values for Garfield County land highlighted

Large, colorful maps of Garfield County were spread across tables in the Rifle Library's meeting room on Monday, showing which areas of the county might have a value or two that makes that land worth preserving.

Garfield Legacy Project held four open houses across the county this week to inform the public about their Greenprint for Conservation and Economic Opportunity and take comments.

The effort began last fall with a survey and community workshops that identified a set of land conservation goals, which were to preserve agriculture and wildlife habitat, protect water quality, enhance trails and recreational opportunities and create open space buffers between communities.

Mary Noone of Glenwood Springs, co-chair of the project, said in a news release the effort is designed to gauge community priorities for open space.

"Ultimately, we hope to see the community create a funded open lands program," she said. "But it has to reflect Garfield County's unique needs and values. That's the idea behind the Greenprint, to figure out what the Garfield County community thinks is most important."

At the Rifle open house, project partner Martha Cochran of the Aspen Valley Land Trust said the maps identify lands ideally preserved for their water values, as working ranches, open land, tourism and recreation opportunities.

"Landowners could see what values their land has," Cochran said.

"This is valuable because it isn't about one use versus another use," said project member Phil Halliwell, who is also on the Greenprint Steering Committee. "It says there are some places that we can achieve multiple benefits."

In addition to showing the various maps, a set of guiding principles were explained.

"The principles reflect specific issues or ideas we heard from people during the project," said project co-chair Dave Devanney. "The principles are not about what we want to preserve or create, but how we would do it. So, we have a principle that speaks to the voluntary nature of the program and one that talks about accountability, among others. Together, they provide guideposts as we set about designing a program that fits Garfield County."

Cochran said the current commissioners are "reluctant" to have an open space program run by the county.

"There will be a citizens committee to evaluate the proposals and recommend action to the county commissioners," she added. "It will be voluntary only, with a land conservation agency holding the conservation easement."

Open space program criteria will be used to rank and evaluate funding proposals, Cochran said.

Money for such a program is proposed to come from a quarter-cent countywide sales tax, which could be placed on the November general election ballot for voter approval, Cochran said.

Ideally, some land should be bought for public use and access, Cochran said. For example, a town could seek funds to acquire access to a parcel of land for public use. That process would be similar to what the town of Silt did, with help from the Aspen Valley Land Trust, Cochran said, that resulted in a new park.

The city of Rifle and the trust have considered how to acquire a 100-acre island in the Colorado River as well, Cochran said.

"I think there's as much or even more interest in open space in the western end of the county than there is in the eastern part," she said. "Everyone thinks it's the other way around, but really it's because of all the large working ranches out here."

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The Post Independent Updated Jun 13, 2012 06:14PM Published Jun 13, 2012 06:13PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.