Conservancy seeks approval, funds for Basalt River Center | AspenTimes.com

Conservancy seeks approval, funds for Basalt River Center

An artist's drawing shows what the Roaring Fork Conservancy's proposed 8,400-square-foot River Center in Basalt will look like.

BASALT – The Roaring Fork Conservancy has embarked on an ambitious $6 million fundraising campaign to build and operate a long-anticipated River Center in Basalt.

The nonprofit organization was founded in the 1996 with the goals of educating people about the Roaring Fork watershed and inspiring them to protect it. After implementing numerous programs during the past decade to accomplish its goals, the conservancy is now focusing on building the headquarters its staff and supporters have always envisioned.

“This is where it’s going to be heard – we care about our rivers,” said Carlyle Kyzer, major gifts director for the Roaring Fork Conservancy.

The organization has applied for approval from Basalt to build an 8,430-square-foot structure on the banks of the Roaring Fork River. It purchased an undeveloped site beside the Tacqueria el Nopal from the town in 2005.

The envisioned river center would be a hybrid exhibit hall, research lab, office building and information clearinghouse on all things Roaring Fork watershed.

“I would describe it as something you probably haven’t seen before,” Kyzer said.

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One feature will be interactive exhibits that educate observers about various aspect of the area’s rivers and their special habitats. The exhibits will be very much “hands on, hands in,” Kyzer said.

The structure, being designed by acclaimed architect Harry Teague, will be so entwined with the river that it will truly be a “gateway to the Roaring Fork,” according to Kyzer. It is envisioned as an environmental, educational magnet much like the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies’ facility at Hallam Lake.

The conservancy is emerging from a “quiet phase” of private fundraising to a highly visible public approach. So far, more than $2 million has been raised, Kyzer said. Fundraisers are still trying to land the biggest fish. The donor of $1.25 million gets the naming right for the River Center.

“I think this may be the best bargain for an iconic naming opportunity in the Roaring Fork Valley,” Kyzer said.

The center will be built in phases. About $3.3 million is being sought for the first phase. A total of $6 million is needed for the capital costs plus an endowment for operations.

Raising funds during the tough economic times has been a challenge, as it’s been for all nonprofits, Kyzer acknowledged, but the conservancy and its river center have proved popular. “We are grateful we’ve got a committed donor base,” she said.

No specific timeline has been established for breaking ground, although the conservancy wants to take advantage of lower construction costs during the recession.

The launch of the public portion of the fundraising effort starts Friday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the opening reception of an art exhibit at the Ann Korologos Gallery on Midland Avenue in Basalt. The event, A Midwinter’s Evening of Art, features the work of more than 40 artists, many of them local residents.

Larry Yaw, co-chair of the River Center capital campaign, came up with the idea of approaching artists who work with western themes for contributions for the fundraiser. Many of the works of art feature water-related paintings. All proceeds from sales will benefit the Roaring Fork Conservancy.

Select pieces in the exhibit can be seen at http://www.roaringfork.org.

scondon@aspentimes.com