Basalt lands grant for riverfront park | AspenTimes.com

Basalt lands grant for riverfront park

Basalt’s dream of turning a ramshackle property into a classic riverfront park moved a giant step closer toward reality Friday when the town government scored a $482,000 grant from the state.

Great Outdoors Colorado, the agency that distributes state lottery funds to open space preservation projects, selected Basalt as one of its big winners this spring.

Basalt applied for the funds to turn 7 acres of the Levinson property on the banks of the Roaring Fork River into a park. The land is west of downtown, where the Taqueria el Nopal restaurant and other businesses are located.

The grant will be used to enhance wildlife habitat and provide better access to the river for humans, according to the town’s application. Access is envisioned for kayakers and anglers as well as people who simply want to hang out close to the river and riparian area.

Nature trails will provide connections to pedestrian routes already established or contemplated in the area. Natural wading pools may be developed alongside the river. The area will be xeriscaped with drought-resistent landscaping and native vegetation.

Basalt’s application passed the first cut in Great Outdoor Colorado’s grant process late last year. GoCo, as the agency is known, invited Basalt to prepare a more detailed application in January. A concept paper prepared by Basalt staffers Kay Phillip and Betsy Suerth envisioned the riverfront park as a regional draw.

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“The park will benefit the 25,000 residents of the Roaring Fork Valley, over 9,000 people who use outfitters or guides to go boating or fishing and thousands of others who participate in these activities on their own, the approximately 2,000 individual anglers who visit the Roaring Fork River in Basalt, and thousands of other visitors who travel to the region,” the concept paper said.

Word came from Basalt Town Hall late Friday afternoon that the grant had been awarded. GoCo officials couldn’t be reached for comment on why Basalt’s project was a winner. However, the organization’s Web site notes that it exists to “dedicate a portion of state lottery proceeds to projects that preserve, protect, and enhance Colorado’s wildlife, parks, rivers, trails, and open spaces.”

GoCo has contributed $290 million to 1,700 projects around the state. The agency has contributed to numerous projects in the Roaring Fork Valley, most recently giving the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies a big boost by giving $500,000 to help it purchase the Rock Bottom Ranch.

In an interview last fall, GoCo Executive Director John Hereford said skyrocketing land costs have forced the organization to rethink its strategy with grants. Since its dollars don’t stretch as far as they used to, it eyes projects with partners that show a clear vision and a willingness to raise other funds to achieve its goals.

Basalt was in great shape on both accounts. It acquired the Levinson property in 2002 after town voters approved a property tax increase to fund an open space program. The town bought land from Dan and Lynn Levinson for $2.2 million, and the couple donated adjacent property. It was the first major purchase through the open space fund.

The town plans to convert the half of the property closest to the Roaring Fork River into a park. The half closest to Two Rivers Road will be developed, possibly with public and private interests. The site is being eyed by the Basalt Regional Library District for a new facility. The nonprofit Roaring Fork Conservancy wants to acquire land there for a nature center.

Any proceeds from a land sale will be returned to the open space fund.

The Levinson property isn’t the only site identified by Basalt as desirable for a riverside park. A detailed study called the Basalt River Stewardship Master Plan envisions an open space and park system to preserve the 100-year flood plain, protect riverfront and riparian property, and provide trails and other recreational amenities.

“Whenever possible, riverfront lands should be obtained through annexation agreements or in association with development and redevelopment of properties having river frontage,” the river plan says.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.

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