Reflecting on Conservation Leadership in Central Colorado and What's Next
By Wendy McDermott, Executive Director
I moved back to Colorado to work for Central Colorado Conservancy last July. As I reflect upon my first year with this incredible organization, I am thrilled with all that we have accomplished together.
A major highlight was last October when, in my new capacity as the Conservancy’s Executive Director, I attended my first closing for the purchase of 110 acres along the upper Arkansas river for inclusion in the Arkansas River Community Preserve (ARC Preserve).
The new acquisitions grew the ARC Preserve to a total 271 acres. With over two miles of Arkansas River frontage in Lake County protected, this expansion is more than just numbers–it’s a resounding win for safeguarding wildlife habitat along the river while securing additional public access opportunities.
Another highlight, in May of this year, we completed the Rawhide Creek Ranch conservation easement that permanently protects the majestic 737-acre ranch adjacent to Browns Canyon National Monument. With the completion of the Rawhide Ranch easement and the adjacent 650-acre Centerville Ranch easement that closed in February 2022, the Conservancy has permanently protected over 1,300 contiguous acres spanning from Hwy 285 near Centerville to the iconic Browns Canyon National Monument. Additionally, this is right down the road from the 598-acre conservation easement with Arrowpoint Cattle Company we completed in November 2021 and the 20-acre Ruby Mountain Ranch conservation easement we finalized in December 2021. The Arrowpoint and Ruby Mountain ranches border the Arkansas River and Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area near the entrance to Browns Canyon, a world-renowned stretch of whitewater boating. These four conservation easements permanently protect critical habitat for a variety of wildlife species and vast, open views that exemplify the Central Colorado we all love. Having been raised in Cañon City and a former raft guide on the Arkansas River, I have driven this stretch of the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway and rafted through Browns Canyon countless times and am so honored to be part of Central Colorado Conservancy and these significant conservation achievements that were made possible by our remarkable landowner partners and each one of you, our amazing supporters.
These are just a few examples of many from the last year of the Conservancy's dedication and excellent work that deserves to be celebrated! Our conservation efforts and impact are often what our supporters and communities see in the media, in our emails, and on our social media and networking channels. What you don’t often see is the behind the scenes work, systems and staff that support our impressive growth and impact.
The Conservancy has grown and expanded our impact over the past several years. With this growth comes the need for stronger support and management systems–a strong foundation for our conservation work to rest on. I have been working with our talented staff and dedicated Board of Directors to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of our finance and administrative systems and processes. We are also in the process of evaluating our staff capacity, programming and events and are charting out next steps for scaling our work for greater impact.
Looking forward, I am beyond excited to tell you about our rebranded annual fundraising event! Our new Stewardship Gala better reflects our work stewarding the land and waters we love and
celebrating the Central Colorado we call home.
The 1st Annual Stewardship Gala takes place on Thursday, September 21st at the Mt. Princeton Pavilion. We are bringing back our Conservation Award, and we are launching a new Opportunity Fund at the gala. There will be opportunities throughout the evening to help us kick off our new Opportunity Fund, such as participating in a Desert Dash. (You’ll have to attend to learn more about this!).
In 2024, we will be increasing our capacity to hold more community events and opportunities to learn about and engage in our work. We plan to bring back our annual potluck and we aim to increase volunteer opportunities through our Hands for Lands program. And of course, we plan to continue to expand our critical work of land conservation, watershed restoration and agricultural working lands programs!
Overall, it has been a fantastic first year at the Conservancy, and I am looking forward to the years to come working with you to protect and restore the lands and waters of Central Colorado!