ACES crossing fingers for help with key open-space purchase |

ACES crossing fingers for help with key open-space purchase

Two local environmental groups will learn in the next two days whether or not they’ve taken major strides toward acquiring a midvalley ranch and preserving it as a wildlife refuge.

The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and Aspen Valley Land Trust have applied for two grants that could supply nearly $750,000 for the purchase of the Rock Bottom Ranch south of El Jebel.

ACES has a contract to buy 115 acres of the ranch from the Cole family. The contract is set to close Oct. 1, so ACES is scrambling to raise funds.

The organizations will learn today whether a $175,000 grant application has been approved by the Gates Foundation. If it is, it will be a matching grant that will supply only the last $175,000 needed for the purchase.

On Tuesday, the organizations will learn if their joint application for $550,000 from the Great Outdoors Colorado program has been approved. Looking for big contributions Even with those grants, the two groups will need help raising funds to complete the deal.

The property is being sold for $2,775,000. The family is offering a “sellers contribution and land discount” of $705,000, according to the ACES budget.

ACES is seeking $950,000 from individual contributors. Because of the brief amount of time and large amount of money needed, ACES is “pursuing major donation prospects to acquire the property,” said Susanne Morrison, ACES development director. They are looking for “between 30 and 50 major gifts,” she said.

There won’t be a widespread public fund-raising effort before closing for two reasons – the time crunch and because ACES recently went through a major fund-raising effort for its programs, explained Morrison.

But anyone who wants to help is encouraged to contact ACES, she stressed. In addition, there will be ample opportunity for the public to get involved with the future of the property. `Downvalley ACES’ The two groups envision creating a second ACES-type preserve on the Rock Bottom Ranch site.

“While ACES has been in Aspen since 1968, the need for another ACES-type presence in the Roaring Fork Valley has become obvious due to population growth downvalley and demand for ACES’ services,” says material directed at potential donors.

The Rock Bottom might be the best undeveloped land left in the valley to pursue another type of ACES preserve. It has the largest collection of great blue heron nests in the valley, with four distinct rookeries containing more than 30 active nests. Those nests are located within a 1-mile stretch of cottonwood riparian area along the Roaring Fork River.

The property is also home for wild turkeys, wintering bald eagles, bobcat, beaver, big game, water fowl and raptors.

The property is separated and protected from the Highway 82 corridor. Of the 115 acres, 95 acres will be set aside for “undisturbed natural open space, visually available to the public but otherwise accessed only for purposes of habitat management and enhancement,” according to the ACES material.

The remaining 20 acres will be used for staging of environmental education programs for school groups and the public. An existing 4,000-square-foot barn will be transformed into a field study center.

“No other property in the Roaring Fork Valley holds as much potential for conserving critical habitat, protecting wildlife, and providing an inspirational site for environmental education,” the ACES material concludes.

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