Cardamone honored as ‘Hero of Conservation’ |

Cardamone honored as ‘Hero of Conservation’

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

After 14 years on the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board, Tom Cardamone suggests the board’s official motto be a saying from humorist Will Rogers: Acquire open space, “because they’re not making any more.”

Cardamone, who is stepping down from the board to build a home in Emma, was given a “Hero of Conservation” award by his colleagues Thursday. He will also take a sabbatical from his position as director of the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and has left his position on the city of Aspen’s Open Space and Trails board.

During his tenure on the Pitkin County board, more than 10,000 acres of open space and conservation easements have been acquired, and some 35 miles of paved and unpaved trails have been created in Pitkin County. Cardamone joked on Thursday that considering the hundreds of hours he’s spent working with the board, he’s probably successfully preserved 12 acres per each hour spent in board meetings.

“It’s an extraordinary legacy and contribution he’s leaving us with,” said Tim McFlynn, one of the founders of the open space and trails initiative in Pitkin County.

McFlynn and Cardamone, along with five others, were on the ground floor of the effort to preserve open space in the late 1980s. Initially known as the Save Open Space citizen’s committee, the seven founding fathers (and a mother) also included Reid Haughey, Connie Harvey, Fred Peirce, Tom Oken and Mark Fuller.

Green signs now mark a plethora of open space parcels throughout Pitkin County, but the concept of acquiring open space to preserve it wasn’t publicly funded until 1990, when a ballot initiative was passed by local voters. The local program was modeled after one in Boulder, which is the oldest program of its kind in the state.

“Tom has been on the board of trustees of the Open Space and Trails board since day one ” for 14 years continuously,” McFlynn said. “He’s the only one who has served the program since it began. In looking at the list of acquisitions, it’s amazing to think that Tom was on the board for every one of them.”

Since Cardamone is known by his colleagues as a humble and soft-spoken leader, McFlynn, Harvey, Peirce and Haughey surprised him with the award at Thursday’s meeting so he couldn’t escape acknowledgment.

“It took three years for me to learn that while he doesn’t say much at meetings, he’ll spill an incredible amount of knowledge if you get him without warning in his office,” said Dale Will, director of the Open Space and Trails program.

Since Cardamone is a naturalist at heart, fellow board founder Fred Peirce, who also sits on the city’s open space and trails board, said Cardamone would always keep in mind key migration corridors for the valley’s wildlife when considering a parcel of land that needed protection.

“And the city has considered creating new trails in a couple of areas where we’ve said no, because the impacts to wildlife were greater than we wanted,” Peirce said.

Cardamone’s replacement on the county board, wildlife biologist Jesse Boyce, asked his predecessor how he handled all of the ‘legalese’ he had to deal with while handing complicated land acquisitions.

“I left the legalese to the lawyers, and just focused on buying things,” Cardamone said. “It’s just been a pleasure to be one cog in the wheel with everyone.”

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is]

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