Eagle Valley Land Trust and Walking Mountains Permanently Protect Land in Sweetwater
by Bergen Tjossem
[Dotsero, CO] The Eagle Valley Land Trust (EVLT) and Walking Mountains Science Center have closed on a 224-acre Conservation Easement off Sweetwater Road five miles north of Dotsero, with support from Eagle County Open Space (ECOS).
Walking Mountains has owned the property, the Precourt Family Sweetwater Campus, since 2015 and intends to further develop the site to expand access to educational programming for local students.
An eight-acre portion of the property outside the conservation easement, the George Family Base Camp, has been set aside for a future education center.
“The location of our Sweetwater property allows for easy access from down-Valley communities and provides a different ecological area for our field science programs,” said Markian Feduschak, President of Walking Mountains.
The property contains important wildlife habitat for elk and mule deer, who utilize the area as critical winter habitat. The new conservation easement will ensure the permanent protection of the ecological and educational landscape. “This project is a model for how to balance sensitive wildlife habitat with environmental education – two values that continue to be at the forefront of our local community conversation. This is a win for our local youth and elk alike” said Jessica Foulis, EVLT’s Executive Director.
According to the baseline ecological survey, which accompany all conservation easement transactions, “The property encompasses a mosaic of native pinyon-juniper woodlands and sagebrush shrublands at an average elevation of approximately 6,600 feet.” Both Sweetwater and Irrawaddy Creeks traverse the land and the property’s vegetation provides forage, cover, breeding habitat, and migration corridors for a variety of wildlife species. It is an important habitat for migratory songbirds, raptors, big game, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Additionally, two state species of concern, the leopard frog and the bald eagle both can be found there.
As a result of the conservation efforts, seasonal wildlife closures will now be implemented at the property. “Although, we have honored seasonal closures since our purchase in 2015,” added Feduschak. “The new conservation easement makes the wildlife closures official and are in-line with Walking Mountains’ educational mission. Conservation also helps to achieve goals set forth in the Climate Action Plan through preservation of land and soil sequestration.”
Eagle County Open Space contributed $350,000 from the County’s open space fund to help complete the transaction. “We are excited to partner with two outstanding local conservation organizations on the permanent protection of this unique landscape,” said ECOS director Katherine King.
The Sweetwater Campus is the second conservation easement transaction that EVLT, Walking Mountains, and ECOS have completed together. In 2016, the two nonprofits closed on Walking Mountains’ Buck Creek parcel with support from the County. The 3.5-acre parcel protected by a conservation easement is adjacent to, and part of, Walking Mountains Science Center’s Avon Tang Campus. An additional 97 acres owned by the Town of Avon was also placed under conservation easement with Eagle County as part of the transaction.
The Eagle Valley Land Trust is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving land for our community. To learn more about EVLT’s work, visit www.evlt.org.
Walking Mountains Science Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to awaken a sense of wonder and inspire environmental stewardship and sustainability through natural science education. To learn more, visit www.walkingmountains.org.
Initially approved by voters in 2002, Eagle County Open Space is funded by a property tax mill levy, and works to acquire or preserve open space lands in Eagle County. The Open Space Program has protected over 13,000 acres of land to date; conserving important river frontage and wildlife habitat, adding connectivity to local trail systems, and forever protecting working farms and ranches through land purchases and conservation easements.