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Aspen Valley Land Trust to use grant money to improve Silt Preserve

Town of Silt Public Works Director Trey Fonner speaks of the work that was put into bringing the Silt River Preserve to fruition over the last several years.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Hard to think some 133 acres just south of the Colorado River in Silt were infested by noxious weeds.

When a prospective developer who planned to erect not only housing but two golf courses in the area went bankrupt, it left the property fallow.

“It was at that point that (Silt) and Aspen Valley Land Trust started looking at this property,” said Silt Public Works Director Trey Fonner. “The only other interest that was shown in it was gravel pits.”



On Nov. 20, however, the Aspen Valley Land Trust announced it would use a nearly $400,000 grant acquired from Great Outdoors Colorado, a state organization that partly uses Colorado Lottery proceeds to preserve and enhance the state’s various natural amenities and public spaces, to help fund improvements at this once dormant piece of land.

What has now transformed into the Silt Preserve, a well-groomed, well-manicured public paradise that includes a trail for wildlife viewing and wide-open spaces for outdoor exploration, the money will go toward its Highwater Farm.



“We got money for weed control, habitat restoration, some trail maintenance, interpretive signs, and then site planning around these old ponds and the site planning for restoration work,” said Aspen Valley Land Trust stewardship director Dave Erickson.

Highwater Farm owner Sara Tymczyszyn talks about the growth the farm has seen after only establishing earlier this year.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

The Highwater Farm is an entity within the preserve that employs local students to grow produce to be routed to food banks such as LIFT-UP and Food Bank of the Rockies as well as to be sold in various local locations starting in 2021. In summer, they grew veggies like onions, tomatoes and peppers. Fall harvests include additional produce – such as beets – and the revenue goes back into the farm.

And, according to Highwater Farm Director Sara Tymczyszyn, the help is vast. Among the various helping entities, the town of Silt helped excavate the site. Early Morning Orchard in Palisade facilitated distribution. In their first year, in fact, the farm routed 4,000 pounds of food to hunger relief, said Tymczyszyn.

“Most of the things you see here are only possible because of community support,” she said.

The city originally acquired the property around 2010, Fonner said. From there, a consortium of local entities, including Garfield County and even a work crew of Rifle Correctional Center inmates cutting noxious weeds, transformed the once neglected acreage into a place people could enjoy: the Silt Preserve.

“That was the biggest undertaking. This land had laid dormant and not irrigated for a good nine, 10 years,” Fonner said. “And when we secured it, it was nothing but weeds.”

“They’ve been awesome to work with,” Fonner said of Aspen Valley Land Trust. “We wouldn’t have had a piece of land probably if it wasn’t for their help. They did a lot of the leg work, getting grants.”

In addition, according to a recent news release, heat will be added to the site’s greenhouse, a high tunnel will be installed for growing tomatoes and seating will be built under shade to create an educational space for the first youth program.

Dave Erickson with Aspen Valley Land Trust speaks about the importance of the Silt River Preserve to not only humans but local wildlife as well.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“Local schools, nonprofits and community community groups will benefit from these opportunities to experience the Preserve and grow food locally despite pandemic-related challenges,” the release states.

The substantial grant money will also go toward other locations around the county. The release states that restoration projects will commence at the new Red Hill Trailhead and Riverfront Park in Carbondale “to improve access for residents and visitors.

“At Red Hill, funding will help build a shade structure, install picnic tables and interpretive signage, and landscape the surrounding area,” the release states. “Similarly, at Riverfront Park, this funding will help build an outdoor classroom and expand ADA accessibility, ensuring all are able to enjoy the park’s half-mile stretch of the Crystal River.”

In addition to the towns of Silt and Carbdondale, partners included in this GOCO Resilient Communities Grant to Aspen Valley Land Trust: the Towns of Marble and Basalt, as well as Garfield County, Gunnison County, Pitkin County, Roaring Fork School District, Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Red Hill Council, Highwater Farm, Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, Crested Butte Land Trust, Roaring Fork Conservancy, American Rivers and the Middle Colorado Watershed Council, the release states.

Launching Tuesday back at the Highwater Farm, they look to add to their new youth program, which will employ teenagers and crew leaders to come help out at the farm. Throughout the next three weeks, the farm will try to fundraise $30,000 to help defray these upcoming costs, said Tymczyszyn. She said she hopes the program is able to harvest 16,000 pounds of food in 2021.

It all depends on how well the rest of the community plants their seeds.

“We’re all about partnerships and collaborations up and down the valley here,” Erickson said. “(There’s) positive benefits for the community, for the wildlife … for the future, really.”

To donate to the new youth program, visit https://highwaterfarm.org/

rerku@citiizentelgram.com


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