New AVLT book celebrates the preservation of lands | AspenTimes.com

New AVLT book celebrates the preservation of lands

Stina Sieg
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Courtesy Lois Abel HarlamertAspen Valley Land Trust's book, "Our Place: People and Conservation in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River Valleys," tells the story of the preservation of local land through conservation easements. Included is this property, Quarter Circle 8 Ranch in Cattle Creek near Carbondale.

CARBONDALE ” Sometimes Lois Abel Harlamert steps outside her Ashcroft-area home south of Aspen and holds her arms up to the sky. Surrounded by trees and grass and birds, she exclaims, “I’m open to all wonderful things in the universe!”

That’s how connected she feels to this valley and its land. She’s not the only one.

Her property has already been preserved, but since the 1980s, more than 130 area residents have shown their love of the land through conservation easements. With the help of the Aspen Valley Land Trust, headquartered in Carbondale, owners have been able to keep their scenic acreage, and also protect it from development in perpetuity. The legal jargon and paperwork is complex, but the outcome is simple: More than 20,000 acres have been saved ” and they will be forever.

Harlamert thinks that deserves a celebration.

A new coffee-table book, “Our Place,” is just that. In it, 48 landowners are profiled with a caring, reverent touch. Harlamert provided the photographs of the people (set against the backdrops of their properties), and AVLT Executive Director Martha Cochran wrote their biographies. Though the original idea came from Harlamert, the finished product is nothing short of a collaboration ” not only between the writer and photographer, but the property owners as well.

“I think we should all be thankful for these people,” Harlamert said.

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And who, exactly, are they?

In Cochran’s words, “Just folks.”

She spent about six months distilling their stories, and discovered they come from all walks of life. They’re rich ranchers and middle-class farmers and people whose property has simply been in their family for generations.

Politically and socially, they may have wildly different opinions, but they share a common goal when it comes to their land. All of the individuals profiled in the book could have made hundreds of thousands (and perhaps millions) of dollars had they allowed their land to be developed, but that wasn’t their priority.

“I think what they have in common is that they’re thoughtful about a world bigger than themselves,” Cochran said.

She could have been describing AVLT, as well. Every day she works there, she gets to help people maintain the beauty of a place they love. In 10 years or so, Cochran estimates that all of the valley will either have been developed or preserved, but AVLT’s job won’t be done. It will have to keep monitoring the lands, making sure they’re being used as they should.

With the land trust, as with the book, Cochran’s goal is to show people how special this corner of the world is ” and how they really can defend it for the coming generations.

Harlamert feels much the same way.

She’s had 20 acres in the wilds of Pitkin County for two decades, but in a way, she doesn’t feel as though she owns it ” rather, she just happens to live on it and care for it. When she came up with the idea for the book, her goal was to honor those who understand that way of life.

“I was thinking of thanking the people for their easements and hoping to inspire others,” she said.

It’s an ongoing thing. Now age 71, Harlamert plans on documenting this land and its people until she’s 100. The next volume of the project is slated for publication in 2010, and she’s excited about it, rearing to get out and shoot. As “Our Place” did, she’s sure the sequel will take her to spots that she never would have known about otherwise. She seemed honored to have such a window into people’s lives.

Most of all, though, she is simply thankful to live here.

“For me to even be where I am, it’s a miracle,” she said.

ssieg@postindependent.com

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