Midvalley conservation deal may be getting even better | AspenTimes.com
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Midvalley conservation deal may be getting even better

A sweet deal that could put part of a midvalley ranch into the hands of two local environmental groups may be getting even sweeter.

The Aspen Valley Land Trust and Aspen Center for Environmental Studies have already reached an agreement with the Cole family this year to buy 80 acres of the Rock Bottom Ranch southwest of El Jebel.

They are back at the negotiating table trying to expand the real estate transaction.

“All I can say at this point is it’s getting larger,” said Reid Haughey, executive director of the land trust.

The two environmental organizations were initially going to acquire 60 acres of the ranch. But they have been so impressed with the quality of the property as a nature preserve and wildlife habitat that they have continued to work with the Cole family to buy more of the ranch.

The acreage targeted went from 60 to 80, and now may be growing again.

ACES director Tom Cardamone has said Rock Bottom Ranch could be as important a sanctuary to the midvalley as the Northstar Nature Preserve is to Aspen. If the deal to acquire part of the Rock Bottom is successful, it would be sterilized from development and devoted to continued use as agricultural lands and wildlife habitat.

The Land Trust has applied for a $550,000 grant from the Great Outdoors Colorado program, supported by lottery proceeds, to help with the purchase. ACES is working with a handful of family foundations to raise the remainder of the funds, according to Cardamone.

The grant application describes the property as a potential island of tranquility in the middle of a rapidly growing valley. It includes 52 acres of cottonwood river bottom and 23 acres of pasture.

It is home to 30 heron nests as well as wild turkeys, wintering bald eagles, bobcats, beaver, big game, waterfowl and raptors.

“This property represents the last vestige of bottom lands in the Roaring Fork Valley that maintains all of those environmental qualities that define rural mountain environments, without the encroachment of highways, noise, subdivisions and golf,” the grant request states.

If the deal isn’t closed, the ranch will go back on the market and likely be developed as high-end home- sites.

“AVLT believes that this project is urgent because the landowner is willing to sell the ranch at a significant discount in order to see it preserved by two of the community’s oldest nonprofits,” the application adds.

A contract was scheduled to close July 12, with ACES acquiring the land, then the Land Trust holding the conservation easements. However, a new contract with a larger acreage could be arranged later this month, according to both ACES’ Cardamone and Charlie Cole, one of the sellers. They didn’t want to elaborate until a deal is actually signed.

The Land Trust’s GoCo grant request gives reason to believe the conservation effort could be contagious in the midvalley. Discussions are under way for potential conservation easements on another 200 acres in the midvalley, according to the group.

The key to spurring a potential domino effect is earning a GoCo grant for the Rock Bottom purchase. Dozens of projects around Colorado are competing for funds. The Land Trust’s Haughey said decisions will be announced in July.


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