Summit County bought and preserved 1,257 acres for the public in 2018, a banner year for land conservation
Summit County’s Open Space and Trails department saw a productive 2018, increasing the community’s share of protected wilderness and agricultural heritage while extending the county’s rambling trail network for the public to see, smell and hear more of the High Rockies paradise.
Last year, the county spent $3.5 million for 1,257 acres through 20 land transactions, including 17 property acquisitions, a conservation easement, a trail easement and a covenant. Another $1.5 million arrived in the form of matching funds and grants.
“It was one of our biggest years in terms of land acquisitions since 2005, and one of our biggest years overall,” said Open Space and Trails director Brian Lorch in introducing the release of the county’s 2018 State of the Open Space report, which details the numerous acquisitions and accomplishments for the department last year.
The biggest and most prominent of last year’s land acquisitions was the conservation of the Knorr Ranch near Heeney, located on the western shore of the Green Mountain Reservoir. After years of negotiations between the county, the original landowners and other partners, a double-swap deal ensures that the 1,125 acres of Colorado agricultural heritage and wildlife habitat will be protected from commercial development. The land will be used for ranching until that agricultural value subsides, at which point it may be granted full public access for recreation.
Since 1995, the county has spent nearly $35 million on 332 property acquisitions totaling 17,352 acres. About half that acreage was bought outright and without encumbrance, meaning the public will be able to own and enjoy the land in perpetuity.
Aside from acquisitions, the county also added 3,000 yards of new and resurfaced trail to its existing 38-mile recpath network. That includes 1 ½ miles of new single track trail on Summit County Resource Allocation Park property, completing a loop with 8 miles of previously constructed trail.
The county’s recpath system sees 200,000 user visits a year, costing $200,000 for maintenance annually. Starting in 2018, the county extended the annual usability of the recpath network by grooming the recpath between the towns of Frisco and Breckenridge to non-motorized use, including hiking, Nordic skiing and fat tire biking.
The county also received grant money and donations from the federal government, state and local groups to start work on a biking and hiking connection between Copper Mountain and Leadville along the Fremont Pass.
Work on the 3-mile connection will begin this year.
Looking forward, the county still faces challenges in stewarding its open space and recreation network. Year-after-year increases in visitation is putting a lot of strain on public spaces, and upkeep continues to get more expensive. The current partial federal government shutdown is hampering efforts to coordinate with the U.S. Forest Service on projects planned this year around the county.
And while the county has not dipped into the fund recently, the expired federal Land and Water Conservation Fund is one pool of grant money for local projects that will not be available until Congress renews it. One such project, the ambitious effort to complete the 3,100-mile Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, may be at risk without LWCF grants available for necessary county land acquisitions.