Pitkin County open space program receives largest donation ever
Pitkin County’s open space program recently received its largest donation ever, a program official said Friday.
A hand-written $100,000 personal check showed up early last week in the office of Dale Will, acquisitions director for the Open Space and Trails Program. It arrived in a small envelope with a hand-written address on the front, which Will said he initially thought might be a holiday card.
But when he opened it, he found the check and a note indicating the donor, who wants to remain anonymous, wanted the money to be put toward the purchase of the last developable piece of the Hunter Creek Valley, Will said.
“Oh my gosh — I about fell out of my chair,” Will said. “I had to look at it a couple times.”
Will said he almost immediately showed the check to Open Space Director Gary Tennenbaum and other staff members in the office.
“We all got pretty wild in the office for a little bit,” Will said. “People were making jokes about where you cash something like that.”
Open space officials had been negotiating for about a year with a man named Robert Small, who tracked down the heirs of the fractionalized 10.4 acre mining claim and was able to gain title to it in a federal lawsuit. Will said open space officials, who don’t often fundraise because the program is funded by a property tax, put the word out that they might need help buying the property.
He said he’d heard that a certain individual who lives in the area might be interested in helping buy the Rolland and Maime lodes but didn’t know for sure if it would happen until he received the check.
County commissioners recently approved spending $1.5 million from the open space fund to buy the property. The fund will now be tapped for $1.4 million for the purchase, Will said.
“This is fairly rare for us on the acquisition side,” he said. “It’s the largest single donation of cash made to the open space program.”
The property is the last inholding in the Hunter Creek Valley. County open space officials and many others in the community have worked for decades to preserve the area between Aspen and the 82,000 acre-plus Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness. Had the property been sold, county zoning rules only would have allowed a small cabin, and though year-round, motorized access also would have been allowed.
Will said he expects the deal for the property to close Jan. 6.
“(The donation) made everyone in the (open space) program feel pretty high,” he said. “To see something like this makes us all feel well appreciated.”
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A recent economic impact study on the arts and culture industry in Pitkin County shows that it brought over $450 million to the community in jobs and spending in 2019. What does that mean for the post-pandemic world?