Aspen Valley Land Trust races to conserve land as region grows
A STAR IS BORN
Aspen Valley Land Trust was created in 1967 as the Park Trust. Since than, it has placed conservation easements on more than 43,000 acres from Aspen to De Beque. That extinguishes or reduces development potential on land.
After conserving 43,000 acres of land between Aspen and De Beque over the past 52 years, Aspen Valley Land Trust is taking time to assess what to do next. Rest assured — saving more land is a big part of it.
The Carbondale-based land trust’s staff talked to more than 500 people in 2019 to find out what issues are important to them as the Roaring Fork Valley and Lower Colorado River Valley grow and evolve.
“If anyone is going to care about us in 20 years, we have to be relevant,” AVLT executive director Suzanne Stephens said about the public outreach. “We heard loud and clear that people want us to keep conserving land.”
Population growth, lack of affordable housing, climate change and preserving the rural heritage as well as wildlife habitat were other top issues AVLT heard about in “community listening sessions.”
The comments are helping AVLT develop a Regional Conservation Plan that will identify what areas are important to target for preservation and how to coordinate efforts with state and federal land management agencies.
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One of AVLT’s biggest accomplishments of 2019 was working with John and Laurie McBride and their family to place conservation easements on the 1,870-acre Lost Marbles Ranch in the East Sopris Creek drainage.
The McBride’s contribution combined with conservation easements on the nearby Capitol Creek Ranch, Harvey Ranch and part of the Weiben Ranch create a 5,300-acre corridor of protected private land that features important wintering and calving habitat for elk herds.
When AVLT obtains conservation easements, the development potential of that land is either extinguished or reduced.
In addition to planning future land conservation, AVLT’s staff also asked people what smaller community projects were near and dear to their hearts. While AVLT aims to keep pursing landscape-scale projects such as the McBride ranch conservation easement, it also wants to take on more community-level projects, Stephens said.
Projects such as helping purchase land at the base of Red Hill, a popular hiking and biking area outside of Carbondale, help keep AVLT relevant in an everyday way for regular folks, she said. AVLT led fundraising for the land, then granted the property to the town of Carbondale. That led to construction of a new trail from the base to the existing Mushroom Rock Trails plus construction of two new connector trails. In 2020, the parking lot will be moved, the road straightened and a new trailhead created.
AVLT also was instrumental in helping launch the High Water Farm Project in Silt. The land trust helped the town of Silt buy the 134-acre Silt River Preserve along the Colorado River a number of years ago. Now, Sara Tymczyszyn will use about one acre for a farming project where teens will be hired to grow food that will be sold around the region and also donated to regional food banks.
AVLT’s other 2019 accomplishments are outlined on its website at http://avlt.org.
Stephens said AVLT also will explore ways to engage the regional “Latinx” population. One possibility is using its access to agricultural land and making it available to Latinos and Latinas for farming. Many of the immigrants to the region grew up with a farming and ranching background.
Stephens said her staff has no shortage of projects to work on in 2020. There is one “big conservation project” that is likely to be completed that she said she couldn’t disclose yet. In general, she said, conservation projects are requiring purchases to make it worthwhile for the landowners. That’s resulted in fewer but high quality projects, Stephens said.
AVLT regularly seeks grants from Greater Outdoors Colorado, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to complete projects.
The 43,000 acres that it has conserved thus far are about evenly divided between the Roaring Fork Valley and Lower Colorado River Valley. It involves about 67 square miles on 200 properties. To put that into perspective, Stephens said, the land AVLT has conserved would stretch from Aspen to Rifle with the width of a mile. Expect that glorious ribbon to continue growing in future years.
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