Awarding of grants honors John Denver honor
More than $4 million raised by the sale of the Windstar land in April is locked into a special account handled by the Aspen Community Foundation and can only be spent on grants to nonprofit organizations and causes.
The Windstar Land Conservancy reaped $4,078,000 from the sale, but it never took control of any of the money, according to Karmen Dopslaff, a member of the conservancy’s board of directors.
“We transferred it right from escrow to the Aspen Community Foundation,” she said. “Windstar Land Conservancy never touched the money.”
The transfer took place at the time of the sale. Dopslaff provided proof that the Aspen Community Foundation’s finance director confirmed on April 29 that the funds were wired to the John Denver Aspenglow Fund, which the foundation is managing.
The Windstar Land Conservancy and the Rocky Mountain Institute sold the 957-acre Windstar property in Old Snowmass to Five Valley Farm LLC in April for $8.5 million. Dopslaff said each organization’s share was $4,078,000 after costs associated with the closing of the transaction were subtracted.
Most of the property — 927 acres — is held in a conservation easement, which prohibits development. The remaining 30 acres can be developed with approvals from Pitkin County.
Musician John Denver acquired the property — a former ranch — in the 1970s as headquarters for his Windstar Foundation. Windstar focused on environmental education and activism and built a loyal following. It slowly fizzled after Denver’s death in October 1997. Nevertheless, some supporters of the organization were upset when Windstar was dissolved last fall and the land was sold in April. They felt Windstar should have been given a chance to buy out Rocky the Mountain Institute and retain control of the land.
Dopslaff, who was a member of the Windstar Foundation board and supported its dissolution, said she doesn’t see how Windstar supporters could have rallied to raise the needed funds.
“To come up with 4 million after not doing anything significant for 14 years doesn’t seem possible,” she said.
Some critics also have called for an accounting of the sale proceeds. Rocky Mountain Institute is using its half of the funds from the sale to help build a new office and meeting facility in Basalt.
Windstar Land Conservancy officials envisioned for some time establishing the John Denver Aspenglow Fund through the Aspen Community Foundation. Letting the foundation manage the fund is meant to remove questions about how the proceeds were spent, according to Dopslaff.
“Aspen Community Foundation is a very reputable organization,” she said.
The Windstar Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Institute created the Windstar Land Conservancy in 1996 to manage the property. Now that the property is sold, the organization will be dissolved.
“Windstar Land Conservancy will be closing down by the end of the month,” Dopslaff said.
For some followers of John Denver and supporters of Windstar, the dissolution of the conservancy will represent the end of his Windstar dream. Dopslaff and others feel his vision is being fulfilled in a couple of ways. The 927 acres will continue to be managed and preserved as open space and wildlife habitat. Pitkin County Open Space and Trails along with Aspen Valley Land Trust hold the conservation easement to the property.
In addition, the $4,078,000 will support causes that enrich organizations in the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond.
“They are really wonderful,” Dopslaff said of the organizations receiving grants. “John would be really happy.”
So far, a total of $718,000 has been awarded in grants, Dopslaff said. The recipients were Cradle to Career, an educational program for children; the Aspen Community School; a fund established in Oklahoma for victims of a deadly tornado; and Wilderness Workshop, a Carbondale-based environmental organization. The relief funds for tornado victims were given in honor of John Denver’s parents, who were from Oklahoma, according to Dopslaff.
She said she didn’t want to disclose the specific grant amounts to avoid hurt feelings among the recipients, who received varying amounts based on need. Additional grants will be awarded in July. A type of endowment will be created to make the fund last longer, according to Dopslaff.
Dopslaff said the foundation writes the checks. An advisory committee decides which organizations receive the grants. Thomas Crum, who co-founded Windstar, is a member of the committee, according to Dopslaff. A total of seven people have “input” on committee decisions, she said.
“What we did with John’s money is we gave it back to the community,” Dopslaff said. “We tried to touch on all bases.”
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The city of Aspen’s land use code says that only single-family homes can be built on lots smaller than 6,000 square feet in certain neighborhoods. That might change if Aspen City Council allows a proposed change that allows multi-family buildings to be developed.