Backers race to round up ranch conservation funds
Open space proponents are $3.1 million short in their efforts to buy a conservation easement for the Golden Bair Ranch, and ranch owner Craig Bair said time is running out.Bair told the Garfield County commissioners on Monday he must buy out his older brother, Le Grande Bair, by October, to honor an agreement they made two years ago.”If we can’t run down the dollars, I’ll have to see a Realtor,” Craig Bair told the commissioners. “Then it’s gone.”Bair and two nonprofit open space groups asked the Garfield County commissioners to contribute money toward the $5 million needed to place a conservation easement on the ranch. The easement would prevent the ranch, at the east end of Glenwood Canyon, from ever being developed.Christine Quinlan, projects manager for the Boulder-based Conservation Fund, told the commissioners her group and the Eagle Valley Land Trust have lined up $1.9 million in federal funds and a Colorado GOCO grant. Up to $2 million more may be available through Eagle County’s open space program, but not until 2004 at the earliest, said Eagle Valley Land Trust director Cindy Cohagen.Garfield County commissioners John Martin and Trsi Houpt were sympathetic to Bair’s request. But unlike Eagle County, Garfield doesn’t have a dedicated property tax to fund open space purchases and conservation easements.”At this point in time, we don’t have anything for you,” Martin said during the discussion Monday.Houpt suggested Garfield County staff members meet to discuss possible funding mechanisms, and the county could consider the request in planning the 2004 budget this fall. “We’ll look seriously at what we can do,” Houpt said.The 6,000-acre Golden Bair Ranch sits on the south side of the Colorado River off Interstate 70, at the east end of Glenwood Canyon. The ranch dates to 1919, and has been in the Bair family for four generations. Craig Bair still raises sheep, but with low livestock prices, he also operates the place as a guest ranch and corporate retreat. Approximately 35 percent of the ranch is in Garfield County, and the remainder is in Eagle County.The Conservation Fund, which preserves open space nationwide, has teamed with the Eagle Valley Land Trust to offer Bair $5 million to place a conservation easement on the property. Through the easement, which would be held by a third party such as the Eagle Valley Land Trust, Bair could still use the land and sell it, but neither he nor a future owner could develop the property.Although the federal government committed $1.5 million to the easement in the 2003 budget, and Colorado’s GOCO grant is good for $400,000, the money could be lost if it isn’t used within a certain time period.”That’s making us nervous,” Quinlan said.Eagle County funding is tantalizingly close, but for now beyond reach. Cohagen said the county’s 1.5 mill property tax is expected to raise $3 million in its first year, but it won’t be collected until 2004. After the tax is collected, an Eagle County advisory committee must still make recommendations to the county commissioners about how to spend the money, and the committee isn’t yet formed.”It’s not moving as quickly as we’d like it,” Cohagen said.Tom Macy, an attorney for the Conservation Fund, said his group could provide “bridge” funding for the conservation easement purchase until Eagle County money is available. Quinlan said the Conservation Fund can come up with money through a revolving fund if it receives a commitment from Garfield County.Martin reminded Macy and Quinlan that most of Garfield County’s tax dollars are already committed to departments such as road and bridge and social services.”How do we siphon off $1 million or $1.2 million, without a tax?” Martin said.Quinlan and Cohagen started the morning’s discussion by saying their groups want to keep the Golden Bair Ranch intact to preserve views and protect the local ranching heritage.”This is one of the last great places in the Eagle/Garfield County region,” Cohagen said.After the meeting, Bair said he and his brother, Le Grande, reached their buyout agreement two years ago. At the time, it appeared he had ample time to sell a conservation easement to raise the funds.”But it has taken longer than expected,” Bair said.Bair wore a starched white shirt and jeans to Monday’s meeting, and put on his Denver Lamb Co. cap when he stepped outside the Garfield County Courthouse Plaza following the morning’s discussion. He said everyone seemed “positive” when he first started the conservation easement search two years ago.”But now, I need some action,” he said.Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.orgBair Ranch easement fundingOpen space groups need $5 million to buy a conservation easement for the Golden Bair Ranch in Glenwood Canyon. Following is the financial outlook so far:-U.S. Bureau of Land Management: $1.5 million committed in its 2003 budget.-Great Outdoors Colorado: $400,000 committed from lottery funds.-Eagle Valley Land Trust: $2 million requested from the Eagle County open space fund.
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Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Rob Stein announced his resignation Friday, effective at the end of the school year, saying he will take “a personal sabbatical” next year.