Conservation deal advancing in the heart of Emma |

Conservation deal advancing in the heart of Emma

The Pitkin County commissioners Wednesday approved funding to help acquire a conservation easement on a ranch in Emma and, in a separate action, approved six agricultural leases on a different midvalley ranch.

The commissioners approved as much as $510,000 to help purchase a conservation easement and sterilize four undeveloped home sites on Tom Waldeck’s Emma Farms. Pitkin County has a contract to buy the conservation easement on 50 acres of land for $2 million. However, the Eagle County open space program’s board of directors voted Monday to advise the Eagle County commissioners to chip in as much as $1.5 million because three of the four lots are located in its jurisdiction, according to Dale Will, director of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails.

The Eagle County commissioners will consider the recommendation March 24.

Will said the final amounts for Eagle and Pitkin counties will likely be less. Pitkin County submitted a grant application to Great Outdoors Colorado for $670,000. In addition, Basalt is considering a donation of $50,000. Midvalley Trails Committee also has been approached for funds.

Will said Pitkin County’s share of the purchase would be about $320,000 if all funding comes through.

Will said acquiring the conservation easement would be a huge step in preserving agricultural land and open views in the heart of Emma. Waldeck’s property is adjacent to the Glassier Open Space, which is comprised of two ranches that local governments teamed to acquire in 2013 and 2014. Sterilizing four home sites on Waldeck’s property will protect the integrity of the Glassier property, Will said.

“It would be a real shame to have the four (home lots) developed,” said Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman. He said Eagle County had to be acknowledged for its willingness to fund such a large portion of the purchase.

If the deal is approved as expected, there would be conservation easement on a total of 440 acres of land on Glassier Open Space and Emma Farms. Waldeck would retain two building rights on his property. Those home sites are located next to Hooks Lane and not as vital to sterilize, Will said.

Rory Cerise, a rancher who was raised on what is now Emma Farms, would continue using the ground for cattle grazing and growing hay if the conservation easement is purchased.

Pitkin County’s contribution won’t be official until the commissioners hold a public hearing and vote a second time March 25.

Meanwhile, in another big step for preserving agriculture in Emma, the commissioners approved the open space program’s proposed leases on six parcels of the Glassier Open Space.

The lease rates stirred controversy when the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board of Trustees reviewed them a month ago. Four trustees felt the rates were too low, and they demanded more information to justify the proposal. They approved the leases two weeks ago after receiving the information.

The lease rates stirred no controversy with the commissioners. Newman noted the plan was to boost agriculture, not reap top dollar from renting the land.

The 44.5-acre Parcel A will be leased to Alec Parker for $10 per acre, or $450 annually, and the 94.2-acre Parcel B will be leased to Rory and Lucy Cerise for $18.50 per acre, or $1,742.70 annually. They will graze livestock and grow hay.

Four smaller parcels, the largest being 10.3 acres, will be leased to consortiums of farmers experimenting with alternative agriculture. The Glassier Agricultural Co-Operative consists of people who will plant fruit trees, grow vegetables and flowers and raise small animals such as rabbits. Another lease was approved for Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, which will raise vegetables. The lease rates ranged from $26 annually for two acres to $180 annually for 10 acres.

The commissioners were enthusiastic about the leases and helping preserve agriculture. Commissioner chairman Steve Child expressed concern that farmers who plant fruit trees on the property take adequate steps to make sure bears can’t get the bounty.

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