Guest commentary: Pitkin County Open Space and Trails needs your ballot support
This November, Pitkin County will have Referendum 1A on the ballot. This is to reauthorize the very popular, successful and unique Open Space and Trails Fund. This reauthorization will:
1. Maintain the current mill levy; no tax increase.
2. Extend the authorization for 20 years to allow for long-term planning.
3. Add flexibility in the allocation of funds to better address immediate maintenance and stewardship needs.
4. Clarify charter language.
The mission of the Open Space and Trails program is to acquire, preserve, maintain and manage open space properties for multiple purposes, including but not limited to recreational, wildlife, agricultural, scenic and access purposes and to acquire, preserve, develop, maintain and manage trails for similar purposes.
Over the past 25 years, your Open Space and Trails program has acquired and placed under conservation easements more than 20,000 acres and 70 miles of trails. In addition, Open Space and Trails oversees and funds Pitkin County’s Nordic ski trail system, providing more than 90 kilometers of set tracks free to the public. As our Open Space and Trails program has grown, more resources are needed for the ongoing stewardship and maintenance of these lands, trails and Nordic ski system. The original charter language limited such uses to only 15 percent of the fund; the ballot reauthorization will increase this percentage up to 35 percent of the fund and extend the authorization period for 20 years beginning in the year 2020 when the current authorization expires.
The Open Space and Trails program has proven its ability to acquire critical lands, work with longtime ranchers enabling them to continue their way of life with conservation easements, build multi-use trails while ensuring the protection of wildlife and provide a world-class Nordic trail system. Without reauthorization, the Open Space program would become unfunded in 2020 and the maintenance of Open Space assets would fall on the county general fund.
One of Open Space and Trails most recent policies approved by county commissioners addresses the importance of protecting biodiversity and the management of human activity in the organization’s identification and management plans. For many years, wildlife studies have been the baseline for understanding where and when human uses may be appropriate with management plans taking anywhere from six months to over a year to complete given an open and public process. Protecting biodiversity has led to requiring a complete closure on the “backside” of the North Star Nature Preserve, an extended closure on the Glassier Property regarding access to the Crown (longer than the Bureau of Land Management on the Prince Creek Side), and an even longer seasonal closure on Filoha Meadows.
In the past few years, Open Space and Trails has spent more than $400,000 on habitat improvement projects including controlled burns, pine beetle mitigation and oak mastication. Dogs are banned for the protection of wildlife on four Open Space and Trails properties and two access corridors constituting 1,839 acres in total (39 percent) of fee-owned open space. Open Space and Trails lands protect the only maternity roost for Townsend’s big-eared bat in Colorado, as well as one of the highest great blue heron nesting areas in the U.S. Enforcement and education are important for the protection of our biodiversity and this past year alone, Open Space and Trails sponsored 27 environmental education tours.
Open Space and Trails programs have enhanced our lifestyles while preserving the rural character of Pitkin County over the past 25 years. The program’s future depends on your support. Please vote “yes” this November (early voting begins mid-October). Thank you.
George Newman is a Pitkin County commissioner.
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