Move afoot to preserve `gem’ of a riparian area |

Move afoot to preserve `gem’ of a riparian area

Tim Mutrie

A tract of key riparian habitat along the Roaring Fork Valleynear El Jebel is under contract to two local conservation groupsthat hope to see the property used as a wildlife sanctuary andfor educational activities.The 80-acre parcel, part of 115 remaining acres at Rock BottomRanch, is under contract to the Aspen Center for EnvironmentalStudies and Aspen Valley Land Trust for an undisclosed price.The two organizations are seeking a grant from Great OutdoorsColorado, the state lottery-funded open space agency, to assistin the purchase. Representatives for both groups will take theproposal before the Basalt Town Council Tuesday and ask for thecouncil’s blessing. “The Land Trust and ACES are asking for [the Basalt council’s]support,” said Tom Cardamone, ACES director. It’s helpful in theGOCO grant process if the local municipality supports the project,even if it’s not in the form of financial backing, he explained.The property is located at the northern dead end of Hook SpurRoad, two miles up the road from the Willits Lane river crossingin Emma.The parcel boasts a number of key ecological and open space attributes,including 30 active heron nests, making it the largest heron rookeryin the Roaring Fork Valley, said Cardamone. It also offers accessto the Crown – 10,000 acres of BLM scrub land adjoining the Mt.Sopris wildlife area, river frontage and numerous trout ponds.”Basically, it’s a tremendous wildlife area,” Cardamone said.The Cole family has owned the property since 1972, and after recentlyselling half of the original ranch, they expressed a desire tosee most of the other half preserved. The family intends to retainabout 35 acres.”That sale stimulated our focus on the bottom half, which is probablythe richest element of the ranch as it relates to biodiversityand ecology,” said Charlie Cole. “It’s pretty much all wetlands,and it was at that point we thought about having it preservedand particularly with an organization like ACES, which I havea lot of respect for.”The Cole family approached ACES about the parcel close to a yearago.”It would be a bargain sale,” Cardamone said, “meaning it’s significantlybelow appraised value. It’s basically a contribution from CharlieCole and his family. It’s an incredibly good deal for one of thelast, best chunks of river bottom in the Roaring Fork Valley.””We’re describing it first as a wildlife sanctuary and secondas a location for field studies,” Cardamone said. “One of ourchallenges, because the wildlife sanctuary is a primary focusand the neighborhood is largely rural and quiet, is that we don’twant our activities to change the quiet character of that neighborhood.”The sequence is that first we need to acquire the property,”Cardamone continued. “Then the second step, really is to takea step back, and work with the schoolteachers and the neighboringcommunity in general to develop a plan that fits the community,and then we’ll evolve slowly into that plan.”There’s a lot of enthusiasm about preserving a gem of riparianhabitat in that part of the valley,” Cardamone added.

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