Roaring Fork conservation aims to achieve ‘forever’ | AspenTimes.com

Roaring Fork conservation aims to achieve ‘forever’

Conserving lands for wildlife, food production and people is important work, but what matters perhaps even more is the work that follows

By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Aspen Valley Land Trust

Conservation efforts aren't just do-good acts that protect our lands — they also provide essential lessons in ethical stewardship across generations that make conservation work relevant and lasting.
People must be here to care for conserved lands 150 years from now and beyond, said Suzanne Stephens, executive director of the Aspen Valley Land Trust (AVLT), which works for clean air, healthy rivers and open spaces across the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys.
"AVLT is not anti-growth or development, but we are all for planning around a vision that includes a healthy ecosystem, clean water, room for wildlife and room for people," she said. "We ignore conservation at our own peril. Twenty years from now, the Valley will be filling up, and any opportunities we haven’t deliberately taken to conserve the lands we want to remain open will likely default into other uses."
With its roots in open spaces — AVLT owns seven public parks near Aspen, and one in Marble — AVLT expanded its work and mission in the '80s to include agricultural and wildlife conservation, which go hand in hand as part of a large-scale effort to connect corridors and protect a critical mass of ranchland..
We sat down with Stephens to discuss the current conservation landscape in the region, and how the community can make a difference.

Future challenges for people, food and wildlife
The population in Garfield County is expected to grow by about 65 percent between 2020 and 2050, while Pitkin County is expected to grow by 29 percent during that time, according to data from the Colorado State Demographer's office.
"We are facing a serious change on the horizon that will challenge people, water availability, local food production, and certainly wildlife," Stephens said.
Private land along the valley bottoms, which includes rivers and streams, is the most fertile and productive land, but it's also the most critical to wildlife. Setting some of it aside now benefits both people and wildlife.

Why it matters to you and how to make a difference
Fifty-three of AVLT's conserved properties (whether owned by AVLT, municipalities or counties, or private land­owners) are accessible to the public, though that is far from the only benefit they provide.
"For each of us, our relationship to land is personal," Stephens added. "The beauty of land is that we can all connect to it for different reasons, and on our own terms."
Fifty-three of AVLT’s conserved properties (whether owned by AVLT, municipalities or counties, or private landowners) are accessible to the public, though that is far from the only benefit they provide.

Interdependence of public and private lands
Public lands are central to our way of life and recreational enjoyment, but they tend to be located in the less productive, high elevation “rock and ice” zones that provide wildlife with summer range. To survive, big game and other species also need access to good wintering grounds and reproduction areas, which tend to be located in the privately owned lower hills and valley bottoms.
"To protect wildlife and our functioning ecosystems, we need both — and we need connections between the two," she said.

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Return on investment
Stephens points to a study last year by Colorado State University that found a $4 to $12 return for every $1 invested in conservation easements across the state. This does not include resort economy or tourism dollars.
"The case is clear that conservation makes us healthier, happier, and in many ways wealthier," she said, "and now is the time to invest — before rising costs outweigh our ability to act."
With more than 40,000 acres from Independence Pass to DeBeque protecting agricultural land, 30 miles of trails, eight parks, as well as historically important land such as the Redstone Coke Ovens and the Townsite of Independence, Aspen Valley Land Trust is committed to its investments in conservation for generations to come. Through community support in the form of donations, open space votes and volunteerism, the work will continue.
"It is up to us to ensure that the next generation is left with something to care about," Stephens said, "and that our children make connections to nature that will invest them in the cause going forward."

Your money will go over twice as far if you donate to AVLT on Colorado Gives Day
A generous donor has offered to match up to $10,000 of Colorado Gives Day gifts to Aspen Valley Land Trust. What does this mean for you? It means that every $1 you donate to AVLT on Colorado Gives Day (through ColoradoGives.org) will be worth MORE THAN $2 thanks to First Bank’s statewide contribution to Colorado Gives Day. Schedule your gift today!

Community-based conservation projects by Aspen Valley Land Trust
– Last year’s purchase of the Chapin Wright Marble Basecamp provides outdoor education access and opportunities for schools from up and down the valley, with a focus on public schools that are beginning to building outdoor education programs.
– The base of Red Hill, recently acquired and given to the Town of Carbondale, will benefit trail users from across the demographic and recreational spectrum.
– Current projects on the Silt River Preserve, which the AVLT helped the Town of Silt acquire in 2009, will create and enhance a public nature park.
– The Crystal River Restoration Project is gaining steam as the Town of Carbondale and AVLT, together with partners, lead a public scoping process to help define the project along ½ mile of the Crystal River.
– Marble Children’s Park was recently donated to AVLT and officially opened to the public and for ongoing use by the Marble Charter School.

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