Open Space program should lasso Fender ranch property |

Open Space program should lasso Fender ranch property

Pitkin County has another opportunity to preserve a large tract of open space.Just last month, Pitkin County spent $7.5 million in open space funds to preserve 170 acres on Smuggler Mountain. In the coming weeks, the commissioners will decide whether to spend another large, yet-undisclosed, chunk of change to purchase conservation easements in the midvalley on hundreds of acres owned by Tom Clark and Tom McCloskey.The commissioners should give the Emma property a careful look.There are plenty of good reasons to make this deal work. The land in question, which the Fender family has used to raise cattle for most of the past 45 years, is a vital wildlife corridor, connecting Light Hill in Old Snowmass with the Crown, located between El Jebel and Mount Sopris. This opportunity is especially enticing as we see more and more of the valley’s wildlife corridors filled with large homes and golf courses.The Fender ranch is one of the last agricultural operations in the valley. Its open fields offer uninterrupted views of the surrounding geography, something increasingly rare in the Roaring Fork Valley.The county’s Open Space and Trails board has been working on a plan to obtain conservation easements on approximately 590 acres on the Fender property and Tom Clark’s neighboring 120-acre spread. About 75 acres will remain unprotected to allow development of three new homes. Clark and McCloskey will also be able to remodel the historic ranch house. Two of those developable parcels will be along Sopris Creek, which has been badly damaged by cattle. By removing the cows, Clark and McCloskey have an opportunity to restore the stream.The Smuggler purchase depleted much of the Open Space and Trails program’s cash. That its executive director and board have come up with a proposal to preserve this much open space – they aren’t sharing the details at this point – is praiseworthy and encouraging. We hope the deal will sit well enough with the county commissioners to result in the preservation of this vital and visible midvalley property.