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A Local’s Connection With the Land We Conserve

by Bergen Tjossem

Like many of you, my first encounter with the Vail Valley was on a family vacation to ski the best powder in the world. In fact, my first experience with any mountains was here in the central Rocky Mountains of Vail. On that trip back in 1994, we lucked out with some deep powder and made lasting memories at the foot of the Gore Range. Only ten years old at the time, I acutely remember feeling awestruck by the size of the mountains and the peaceful, deadening silence as the snow fell around me for days. When the sun finally broke through and I could see the grand majesty of this place, I fell in love. I knew then I would one day call these mountains home.

Fast-forward fourteen years to 2008 and there I stood, a native Chicagoan in the heart of Vail Village, so excited to have finally made it “home.” But things were a little different, a bit busier than I remembered. Amid the hustle and bustle of our growing valley, the incessant din of interstate traffic, the speedbumps, stop lights, and evening rush hour traffic, I found myself struggling and yearning to relive that quiet moment in East Vail under the falling snow.

Another eight years on and with a (born-and-raised local) wife and daughter, I am in tune with the growth and changes we’ve both experienced and expect in the Valley. But that need to quench the soul through immersion in nature remains strong and, I suspect, always will. Skiing, venturing deep into the backcountry for a summer camping trip, and exploring seemingly endless public lands are a few ways we can escape into nature. But these are not always the best options as they require some effort and often lots of time.

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Thankfully, the tireless efforts of Eagle Valley Land Trust (EVLT) ensure we can enjoy permanently protected lands in and around the valley floor which will never be developed. When walking the dog or needing quite time outside after a long day at work, we can enjoy permanently protected lands close to home. Some of the many publicly accessible open spaces that will never be developed include Eagle River Preserve, the Miller Ranch Open Space, and the Homestead L in Edwards. In total, EVLT has helped protect forever over 7,500 acres in Eagle County.

When I learned about EVLT’s efforts to conserve land in the heart of the valley and preserve natural buffers between neighborhoods and cities throughout Eagle County, I was impressed. As my daughter grows up, I want for her to enjoy the special benefits of having nature just outside the back door without having to always make the trek to “public lands.” After learning more about EVLT’s work, I jumped at the chance to join the team in the summer of 2015.

EVLT’s focus is on permanently conserving land. In collaboration with public and private forward-thinking landowners. When enjoying nature, from the East Vail Waterfall to Duck Pond in Gypsum, remember EVLT’s integral role in preserving the character of our community.

The secret is out. Eagle County is a great place to live. From Vail to Gypsum, the unique character of our mountain communities continues to draw evermore people to our valley. Notably, the Vail Daily reported on January 4th that “Eagle County ranks as the seventh fastest growing county in the state,” and is expected to grow by another “41,000 people by 2040.” With development increasing correspondingly, EVLT’s work becomes vital to achieving a smart balance between development and land conservation.

In the face of this major projected growth, every project EVLT undertakes is important as a means to preserve the character of our community. EVLT does not oppose development as such, but believes land conservation will help meet the needs of a growing population. As Eagle County develops its master plan to handle the nearly doubling of our population, EVLT offers a way to ensure our communities retain the balance between open space and development so vital to a life well lived.

Your donation to EVLT will ensure we can continue to protect land and meet our mission, which is to preserve forever our scenic vistas, open space, historic lands, waterways, and wildlife habitats that represent the uniqueness of Eagle County and the central Rocky Mountains for the enjoyment, education, and benefit of all who experience this special place.

Donate today at www.evlt.org/give.

Tom Wessel is the Community Outreach & Development Manager at Eagle Valley Land Trust.

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