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Eagle Valley Land Trust Celebrates 35 Years of Conservation

by Bergen Tjossem

Just like we human beings, organizations sometimes use milestone anniversaries to take stock. The Eagle Valley Land Trust is Celebrating 35 Years of Conservation this year, and we are taking this opportunity to reflect on our history and consider our future.

In 1981, a handful of citizens formed the “Eagle Valley Land Conservancy.” That year, Vail Resorts (then Vail Associates) was 19 years old, the Town of Vail 15, and Beaver Creek had just opened. The Vail Valley was blossoming into a year-round destination with world-class skiing, rafting, golf, trails, and burgeoning cultural offerings, all against the backdrop of the forests, mountains, rivers, and ranches of Eagle County. With 80% of the county in public lands thanks to the US Forest Service, Wilderness Areas, and other federal agencies, what was the urgency for protecting local land? Even though Eagle County’s population was just over 13,000, the Front Range was reeling from rapid growth in the late 1970s-1980. Visionary citizens understood the need to get out in front of the development pressures from the inevitable tidal wave of population growth that was sure to come, in order to protect the valley’s special places.

The early years were devoted to building the organization and relationships. The first Conservation Easement donation came in 1993, the 59-acre Johnson property west of Brush Creek Road in Eagle, providing important habitat as well as a buffer between Eagle and Eagle Ranch. By the early 2000s, the organization, now known as the Eagle Valley Land Trust, was actively collaborating with a variety of public and private partners to raise funds for open space conservation. EVLT began to establish its unique role in the conservation landscape as the private non-profit holder of perpetual conservation easements, ensuring protection forever. EVLT gets no public funding, but was a strong advocate for the Eagle County Open Space (ECOS) program, and since passage of the 1.5 mill levy property tax in 2002, EVLT has partnered with Eagle County on 13 properties, including Bair Ranch, Horn Ranch, and West Avon Preserve.

Today, EVLT holds 29 conservation easements, accounting for over 7,550 acres, 1,400 publicly accessible, and 22 miles of trail in partnerships with Eagle County, Town of Vail, Town of Avon, Town of Minturn, and Town of Eagle. In addition, EVLT partners with Walking Mountain Science Center for education and outreach with local kids to help build appreciation, enjoyment, and a sense of stewardship in our future leaders. EVLT’s professional staff worked hard to be among the first land trusts to earn the national Land Trust Alliance’s accreditation.

Looking forward, even as we savor our successes, we know that there is much work to be done. By 2040, Colorado is expected to gain 2.3 million people, growing to 7.8 million, and Eagle County is projected to see an additional 41,000. The “age wave” is coming as baby boomers retire, portending increased demand for second homes and services in the valley, not to mention additional medical tourism demands, exacerbating the already tough affordable housing and transportation situation.

Climate change impacts are predicted to bring increasing frequency and severity of weather events, such as floods, fire, forest diseases, and the warming temperatures mean that the areas where certain plants and animals thrive will shrink and creep into higher elevations.

Sometimes it takes a picture to tell a story. EVLT created the I-70 Two-Mile Buffer map shown here, illustrating that more than two of every three acres of non-federal land within two miles of the I-70 corridor has been developed or subdivided.

2 Mile Buffer as JPEG
Enlarge and explore the map in depth by clicking here or clicking the map, and let us know your thoughts on some important questions as we look to the future of land conservation in Eagle County.

All of this means that we all face critical decisions about our precious remaining undeveloped lands. So here is where you come in. Staff and Board are in the process of creating a strategic plan to guide us through the next three to five years, and we need your help. Where should we focus our efforts? What properties are too valuable for development? What iconic scenic views are too precious to lose? Where are the working ranches that need protection? What about the increasingly critical wildlife migration corridors and habitat for mating and rearing their young? And of course, human needs for recreation and solitude near our homes and work—trails and river corridor access?

Please view the map and some thought-provoking questions in your browser by clicking here, and let us know what lands you would like to see preserved, forever, by emailing your thoughts to twessel@evlt.org. Thank you for supporting EVLT and, in so doing, our quality of life, our legacy to future generations, recreational opportunities, the views, working ranches, and all the natural values we cherish in Eagle County.

Tina Nielsen is an EVLT board member and Special Projects Manager with Boulder County Open Space.

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