This letter to the editor—which originally appeared in The Mountain Mail—was written by the founder of the Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas (now the Central Colorado Conservancy), Bruce Goforth.
From a sound sleep and in a sudden realization in waking this morning, it hit me—April 2001, twenty years earlier, I stood in the Salida Community Center before a packed room of interested citizens and shared a vision of the Upper Arkansas Valley.
In small communities like our own, the values we most cherish were quickly disappearing. Would the Upper Arkansas River Valley soon resemble the Front Range cities linked by subdivisions, strip malls and packed highways? If so, our rural way of life characterized by vistas and small, friendly towns will have disappeared. “Well, it does not have to be that way!” I exclaimed.
Certainly, our county planning processes help. But we can also work to save what we cherish by forming a local land trust—a miniature Nature Conservancy, if you will. By working with our agricultural community and government entities we can proactively do conservation easements which will help maintain our rural way of life “How many of you are familiar with conservation easements?” I asked. “Raise your hands.” Not very many did.
Education was challenge number one, and as it turned out, a recurring one as some interests in our valley did not want conservation easements. “They will tie up the land.” Fortunately, and as I explained the steps necessary to form a local land trust, most folks in the crowd thought conservation easements would be a good idea. And so the work began.
With a handful of volunteers willing to form a governing board, the many requirements to form a non-profit/land trust were eventually achieved.
Key among these requirements were support by county commissioners, agricultural organizations, state and federal agencies, local conservation groups and a sponsoring land trust.
A strategic plan showing how our goals could be accomplished was required by conservation and funding entities in Denver. Applications with the State and IRS had to be approved.
With all the forgoing in place, Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas (now Central Colorado Conservancy) was up and running. Our first conservation easements were in the Game Trail Area, preserving an elk migration corridor and wintering ground, by connecting U.S. Forest lands, the Heckendorf State Wildlife Area and private lands. Conservation easements on lands in Lake, Chaffee, Fremont and Saguache counties followed.
Recently, with help from Envision Chaffee County and funding from the 1-A Initiative, Central Colorado Conservancy becan working with ranches along the Arkansas River corridor to conserve land, water, wildlife and scenic vistas on a large scale.
To get more information on these projects go to centralcoloradoconservancy.org and view the video “Now More than Ever.” You can do your part by becoming a member and/or volunteering.
Today our local land trust is an essential and defining keystone of our river communities. My thanks to all who have contributed these 20 years via membership, financial support and by volunteering. Let’s keep a great movement going!