Aspen Valley Land Trust looks to the future
Over the past 50 years, Aspen Valley Land Trust has steadily pushed to conserve land for open space, amassing 40,000 acres of protected land through private easements and public parks.
But the land trust wants to do more. And it wants advice from communities throughout their service area, from Aspen to De Beque, on how best to do that.
“We decided it’s time to pause, take stock and develop a regional conservation plan,” AVLT Executive Director Suzanne Stephens told a group of about 25 people gathered at Carbondale’s Third Street Center Thursday.
Stephens asked participants to think big, go outside the box on what AVLT should focus on regarding conservation, how conservation could address community issues, and how the organization should look in a decade.
The Carbondale stop was the last of three public meetings this week, and followed more than a week of a dozen some meetings with various stakeholder focus groups, including ranchers, millennials and business owners.
About a dozen people attended the Aspen meeting on Tuesday, and around 20 participated in an event in New Castle on Monday, Stephens said.
The AVLT leaders were clear to say that the development of a strategic plan and regional conservation priorities does not change their first mission as a land trust.
“This doesn’t mean we’re going to stop conserving land or stop doing what we do, but we want to tap into the community and see how we can do it a little better,” Stephens said.
AVLT started the conservation planning process by studying Geographic Information System data to create comprehensive maps of natural resources, soil quality, wildlife data, watersheds, etc., in order to have a baseline.
Phase two was the public and stakeholder meetings, where the land trust asked community members about their priorities.
The mapping will help identify areas of importance for conservation.
The priority areas “are not parcel-specific, and we’re not targeting anybody,” Stephens told the group.
“The idea is that, once we have those priorities identified and we know where the key corridors are, that we would be able to do a proactive fundraising campaign to get some of this,” she said.
The land trust’s region includes very different communities between Aspen and western Garfield County, but each town broadly has the same priorities, Stephens said.
From the three public meetings, Stephens picked up on “similar themes, but slightly different takes on them depending on people’s backgrounds.”
Protection of open space is firmly entrenched for all the respondents to the surveys, Stephens said. But for the ranching community, it’s more about protecting large swaths of land to keep agriculture work viable.
In the Roaring Fork Valley, people are concerned about keeping open space and avoiding urban density, especially as developers and leaders push for more affordable housing projects.
And, like much of AVLT’s past work, how to deal with changing climate and lack of water is still a crucial priority for each community in the region, Stephens said.
The concerns the group raised were varied. Some were concerned that conservation easements on private land locked the public out of large open spaces, or that critics say conservation easements can drive up the cost of land, making the surrounding areas less affordable.
One person wondered if it’s possible to have development in the Roaring Fork Valley pause for 10 years to let communities catch their breath.
And another praised the work of AVLT, but said they need to let the entire community know about the work.
“What you’ve done is incredible up to this point, but it’s time to reach out to the entire community,” that person said. “People don’t know what you’re doing, and they don’t know why you’re doing it.”
AVLT also has an online survey where those who weren’t able to participate in the public meetings can comment.
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