Open space opportunity is too good to pass up
In 1947, journalist John Gunther wrote: “Very little in the world can compare to the scenery of Colorado. The vistas here stretch the eyes, enlighten the heart, and make the spirit humble.”
Gunther wasn’t alone when describing Colorado.
Saturday will be the 99th anniversary of President Theodore Roosevelt’s creation of the White River National Forest. It is the backdrop to Eagle County’s economy, lifestyle and our love of nature. Roosevelt’s commitment to conservation fostered the creation of an additional 151 million acres to the national forests. This was a 400 percent increase from what already existed – an area greater than France, Belgium and the Netherlands combined.
“TR,” as he was called, had many opponents. Most of the citizens of the United States would never set foot on the lands he created or even knew where they were. He believed it was for, “not merely to the people now alive, but to the unborn people. The ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction.”
TR looked far beyond the moment into the future to save lands and preserve America’s beauty for countless generations. It is his early commitment that has rewarded today’s citizens and visitors to Eagle County with unspoiled mountains, clear rivers and blue skies. Many of us have continued Roosevelt’s vision by voting to preserve our open spaces and begin the process to ensure that vistas, valleys and wildlife for future generations will be enjoyed.
Last July, Commissioner Tom Stone voted against preserving Bair Ranch. Commissioner Michael Gallagher and I voted in favor of contributing $2 million to the Bair Ranch conservation easement.
Deals of this size and scope often rise and fall because of their complexity. After our initial commitment last year, several aspects within the transaction had to be restructured. Now, thanks to the persistent effort of all the funding partners, we have a second chance to vote for an issue that will have far-reaching benefits for many generations.
Early this year, the commissioners appointed an open space advisory committee. The committee, after detailed study and community input, voted 9-1 to approve funding support for a Bair Ranch easement using money set aside in the county’s new open space fund.
At a recent meeting, Commissioner Gallagher was absent due to health reasons, so Commissioner Stone and I voted to table a vote to June 1 with the expectation that all three commissioners will be present.
On Tuesday, June 1, it is my hope that Commissioner Gallagher will join me for a final vote to forever preserve this land – one of the crown jewels of Colorado.
Bair Ranch offers many unique opportunities that we can preserve. Almost completely surrounded by U.S. Forest Service and BLM land, the 4,830-acre ranch has been a working sheep ranch since the early 1900s and would maintain the Western ranching heritage.
It has many beautiful views of Glenwood Canyon along the Colorado River. As many as 10 million travelers pass by the ranch each year. The conservation easement would ensure that future generations will enjoy the full splendor of Glenwood Canyon and its scenic beauty that we all enjoy today, whether it’s by car, foot, raft or train.
The river parcel has three miles of frontage on the Colorado River and includes riparian areas and hot springs. It will provide new access to thousands of acres of BLM and Forest Service lands that surround it.
These lands provide habitat for ducks, geese and other species. The mountain parcel of the ranch provides both summer and winter range for elk and deer. Black bears, coyotes, numerous other mammals, wild turkeys and migratory birds are indigenous to the property. And, it would stay that way.
Several important drainages with 12 miles of riparian stream frontage cross the property. Given the increasing demands on and growing controversy about Colorado River water, a conservation easement will forever protect both the quantity and quality of these water sources. The protection of wetlands and flood plains would be preserved.
Vegetation on the ranch is as varied as the topography. Cottonwood trees, willows and conifers line the lower watersheds. Higher elevations are heavily forested with aspen, ponderosa pine, pinon pine, juniper trees and scrub oak. Mixed scrub, including mountain mahogany and sagebrush, covers the hillsides.
Sixty-eight percent, or 3,306 acres, of the ranch property is in Eagle County, with the rest in Garfield County. The conservation easement will cost $5.1 million to preserve 4,830 acres that appraise at $17 million.
The additional contributions are from: Bureau of Land Management, $1.5 million; Greater Outdoors of Colorado (GOCO), $915,000; the Eagle Valley Land Trust, $660,000 (which includes $200,000 from private foundations); and Garfield County, $25,000.
In return, the Bair family will place their ranch in a conservation easement that will forever prohibit the ranch from being developed. Importantly, not only will the Bairs never be able to develop the pristine property, but with the conservation easement, development rights will be stripped from the land forever, for current or future owners.
Furthermore, the ranch will be kept as a single property, which can never be subdivided. Even if the ranch is sold someday, these restrictions will stay in place.
I cannot stress the urgency and importance of your input. The choice is simple – do we save the Bair Ranch from someday being developed like the rest of the valley? Or do we say, “No, thank you” and walk away from 60 percent of committed funds from the federal government, state and nonprofits and 300 citizens who have already contributed to it?
I need you to show your support by e-mailing or calling in a simple message: “Hello, my name is – and I want my commissioners to vote to save the Bair Ranch.” Let your representatives hear you.
TR said: “The movement for the conservation of wildlife and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose and method.”
E-mail your support to: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone us at: (970) 328-8605 and plan on attending the June 1 meeting at 1:30 p.m. at the county building in Eagle. For more information on how you can help, please e-mail me at email@example.com or go to http://www.bairranch.elvt.org.
Arn Menconi is an Eagle County commissioner.
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For those of you who follow my monthly missives, and occasionally read between the lines, you may have noticed a trend toward a bit of cognitive dissonance and some internal conflict on my part.