The mission of the Eagle Valley Land Trust is to preserve forever our scenic vistas, open spaces, historic lands, waterways and wildlife habitats that represent the uniqueness of Eagle County and the Central Rocky Mountains for the enjoyment, education and benefit of all who live in and experience this special place.
The “We Like Lake Creek!” Campaign
The Lake Creek Valley has been a focus of your local Land Trust for many years. We believe Lake Creek should be saved and preserved in its natural state! Thus, we remain focused on land conservation opportunities in and around the Lake Creek Valley. This beautiful and pristine slice of Rocky Mountain heritage is the last southern creek valley in our community that has not been developed with golf courses and endless subdivisions, and it deserves to stay that way!
The creeks, streams, aspens, pines, ranches and meadows of the Lake Creek Valley are worth conserving in their current, natural state. Surrounded by U.S. National Forest and Wilderness, the Lake Creek Valley is home to the 3rd largest elk herd in the region, along with black bears, mule deer, foxes, beavers, eagles and dozens of other animals. With public trail systems throughout the area, Lake Creek is also a place for people. The outdoor recreation and wilderness opportunities available here add many more reasons to protect and conserve Lake Creek from suburban development.
The Lake Creek Valley has it all! – Western ranching heritage, iconic Colorado landscapes and views, public hiking trails, aspen groves, pine forests, clean waters full of fish, huge elk herds, front door access points into White River National Forest and Holy Cross Wilderness lands… and no golf courses! The Lake Creek Valley is a picture postcard for what it means to be in Colorado.
We started our work in the Lake Creek Valley in 1998 with one of the earliest conservation easements in EVLT history, the George Webster Ranch Conservation Easement. In 1999, we worked with Colorado Open Lands to conserve 520 acres of the East Lake Creek Ranch. Then in 2004, we added a third conservation easement called Casteel Creek Ranch. These ranches serve as land buffers between more populous areas in the northern valley and the Holy Cross Wilderness to the south.
Our efforts to protect the Lake Creek Valley took another step forward with our “Front Door Access” project, a public-private partnership to conserve land within walking distance of local neighborhoods. Your local Land Trust closed on this project, called the Homestead Conservation and Public Recreation Project, in 2012. These 4 conservation easements, located in the northeast end of the Lake Creek Valley, protected 322 acres of land, as well as 4 miles of public access trail systems.
Our goals for Lake Creek conservation also include saving and protecting critical landscapes and view-sheds in the valley. Looking to the future, we expect to add an additional 167 acres of protected land later in 2013 when the USFS “Cordillera L” goes into conservation easement as part of the larger Eagle Valley Land Exchange (see below). We are also working with private landowners to preserve land parcels along ridgelines in Lake Creek.
As we look to the future, your local Land Trust is focused on the remaining ranch lands and the large land parcels in the heart of the Lake Creek Valley. We are hard at work, and at the negotiating table with local landowners, to save these lands in their current, natural state for generations to come. This includes the 640-acre State Land Board parcel that is contiguous with National Forest land, and the 1,280-acre Scudder-Webster Joint Venture Ranch. These vast and environmentally-rich ranch lands contain some of the most significant and important conservation values within Lake Creek, and we will continue to push for their permanent protection as part of our campaign. We will continue to identify willing landowners in the Lake Creek Valley to discuss conservation options for their land. Your local Land Trust is the voice of conservation in the Lake Creek Valley, and we are willing to work with all Lake Creek landowners to ensure that land use decisions consider conservation as a primary goal.
The Eagle Valley Land Exchange
The Eagle Valley Land Exchange is a project first conceived in 2004, with the goal of exchanging several properties throughout our community in order to achieve better management and protection of those lands. In the end, five Eagle County entities, one state agency, an arm of the federal government and a local private landowner have brought to fruition a complex land exchange that will permanently protect 1,549 acres of open space in and around Avon, Lake Creek and throughout Eagle County.
After eight years of planning and negotiations, on November 6, 2012, the U.S. Forest Service was the final signatory to the Eagle Valley Land Exchange Agreement, following approval by Eagle County, the Colorado State Land Board and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority. Additional partners in the deal included the Town of Avon, the Nottingham family, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and your Eagle Valley Land Trust. This agreement allowed the Exchange project to move forward and allowed the Land Trust to begin crafting the conservation easement agreements for the permanent conservation of several land parcels within the Exchange.
This historic land conservation transaction will provide a plethora of benefits to our citizens and guests, including expanded outdoor recreation opportunities and publicly accessible trails; permanent conservation protections for critical landscapes and view-sheds; funding for K-12 education programs; more open space buffers between towns and neighborhoods; and increased water storage capabilities for our local water district. The approval of the momentous Eagle Valley Land Exchange is cause for celebration throughout Eagle County! We could not be more proud of this accomplishment for the people of our community.
The Land Exchange involved 11 parcels of land in Eagle County. Specifically, 640 acres of private State Land Board land will become new public forest service land; and 184 acres of private land directly abutting the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness will also become new public forest service land. Three parcels, totaling over 300 acres, will be protected via conservation easements with your local Land Trust. The Land Exchange will also provide the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District with five local water tank locations in key areas which will protect and insure Eagle County’s water needs for years to come. The Land Exchange also relocates the CDOT maintenance yard in Eagle-Vail, thereby clearing the way for major redevelopment and economic revitalization of the area. Funds generated from the Land Exchange will benefit the K-12 education mission of the Colorado State Land Board, providing much needed revenue for education initiatives for kids in our state.
The various provisions of the exchange allow your local Land Trust to effect significant private conservation, in addition to the expansion of public forest service land in our community. A series of conservation easement deeds will be closed in 2013 that will permanently protect over 300 acres of land in Eagle County.
The first conservation easement will involve the 478-acre West Avon/Beaver Creek Point property. Currently US Forest Service land that was designated for possible sale and development, the property will be transferred to the Town of Avon to manage as open space with a conservation easement held by Eagle Valley Land Trust to ensure it will remain in its natural state forever. This new conservation area will preserve the land for public recreation between neighborhoods of Singletree and Wildridge while protecting a prime local landscape and vista.
An estimated 6,636 people live within one mile of the West Avon-Beaver Creek Point conservation easement. The land is highly visible from the interstate corridor and serves a primary vista and northern view-shed for residents in Avon, Beaver Creek, Bachelor Gulch and Arrowhead. In addition to creating a publicly accessible recreation area for our citizens, this conservation area will also serve as a buffer between the neighborhoods Singletree and Wildridge, forever preventing suburban sprawl in this area.
The second conservation easement of the Exchange will occur later in 2013 with a property called the “Cordillera L”, located along the ridgeline between the neighborhoods of Cordillera and Lake Creek , adding 167 acres of land permanently protected by a conservation easement . This land provides a critical landscape and view-shed for the Lake Creek Valley and is also part of the Land Trust’s “We Like Lake Creek!” campaign.A third conservation easement on the 80-acre, Village at Avon parcel, will follow in later 2013. This land will be owned by the Town of Avon and will provide for public access as part of the conservation.
As one of the primary focuses of your local Land Trust, the Eagle Valley Land Exchange project represents what can be accomplished when the public and private land protection entities in Eagle County pool their resources to protect the environment in our community. The agreement has been signed but, there remains much work to be done to bring that agreement to fruition. Expect to hear lots of great news from your local Land Trust about the Eagle Valley Land Exchange project throughout 2013.
Summer 2013 – Future Conservationists Program
A responsibility of all land trusts, including Eagle Valley Land Trust, is to annually monitor and inspect each of the properties we hold in conservation easement. This process involves reviewing the conservation deed or legal document that describes what uses are allowed and prohibited under the terms of the conservation easement and then visiting the property to ensure that those terms are being fulfilled. Our monitors may also take photos and GPS readings as part of the monitoring process in order to help our records track from year to year.
Beginning in early 2012, we began to examine our monitoring program’s ability to teach the community about what we do and how our efforts are important in conserving our local environment. To that end, we are joining our summer monitoring efforts with a new educational component that seeks to involve local youth in the monitoring process. Students from several youth organizations and schools in Eagle County will partake in a multi-day field course where they will perform the tasks of monitoring under the direction of EVLT staff.
By conducting the program at several conservation easements held by EVLT, students will learn about the different values of conservation (open space, historical value, habitat protection, scenic views) while also learning about key technologies like GPS that we use in our monitoring efforts. Through the Summer 2013 Monitoring and Education Program, we hope to inspire the next generation of conservationists and environmentalists.
This education and outreach project is possible because of the generous support of our partners at Vail Resorts Echo.
Duck Pond Conservation Easement
45.5 acres of public land with over 4,000 feet of Eagle River frontage will soon become a permanent conservation area for the enjoyment of people in our down valley communities. The land is owned by Eagle County and managed by Eagle County’s Open Space Department in partnership with Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife. A permanent conservation easement will be placed on the property later this summer with your Eagle Valley Land Trust.
This public recreation area, located along US Highway 6 between Gypsum and Dotsero, is currently open for fishing and duck hunting. 6,789 people live within five miles of this land; 10,278 people live with ten miles. It is a perfect place for local residents to experience the great outdoors and enjoy public access to their Eagle River.
The conservation easement at the Duck Pond Open Space will protect critical wildlife habitat, preserve the riparian corridor and provide public access to the Eagle River in perpetuity. The conservation easement will be donated to the Land Trust by Eagle County Open Space. In addition to the conservation easement to permanently conserve this property in 2013, there are plans by Eagle County to improve the parking area, build a boat launch/take out, construct duck hunting blinds and install signage.
Long-time locals will recognize this property as the ‘old cottonwood place’ previously owned by the Green family. Eagle and Gypsum residents can use this land to take an easy and leisurely afternoon float just down the road from their homes. Rafts, kayaks, canoes, boats and even inner tubes are good for this stretch of river, and it is a perfect location to access to the Eagle River’s “Dead Cow” rapids. Local fly fishing enthusiasts can enjoy over 4,000 feet of fishing access, and come duck hunting season, local hunters can use the property for their sport. We are proud to work with Eagle County to conserve this important piece of Eagle River frontage for our down valley community.
Please join your local Land Trust with a donation to celebrate this new conservation area coming to Eagle, Gypsum and Dotsero!
The Eagle Valley Land Trust seeks to accomplish our mission by:
- Working in collaboration with local, regional, state, and national partners to conserve significant lands in Eagle County and surrounding area.
- Educating residents and visitors about the benefits of open space and how growth can be shaped to include open space.
- Providing information and expertise on conservation tools to landowners, public agencies, and other interested parties.
- Providing a continuum of services for landowners wishing to protect their lands through the donation or sale of conservation easements;
- Acting as stewards of the land protected by the conservation easements it holds in the Eagle County region.
- Defending in perpetuity the conservation values of property it holds in trust.
- Developing strategies and serving as a facilitator for major conservation initiatives in the region.
- Raising funds to permanently protect open space by purchasing conservation easements in this region, with the assurance to donors that 100 percent of the funds raised for projects in Eagle County are used for local and regional projects.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does the Eagle Valley Land Trust protect land?
The Eagle Valley Land Trust is a private, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization that was established in 1982 to preserve the important wildlife habitat, magnificent scenic vistas and historic ranching heritage that are integral to the character and quality of live in Eagle County. By working with the owners of this area’s special open lands, the Land Trust has ensured the permanent protection of more than 9,000 acres in and around the Eagle River Valley. The land that the organization has protected in perpetuity includes:
- the historic Taylor City place on Tennessee Pass
- 1/4 mile of Eagle River frontage
- 3 miles of Colorado River frontage
- 1,800 acres of land that is now part of Sylvan Lake State Park
- historic ranchlands that include homesteaders’ cabins and a pioneer schoolhouse
- famous East Vail Waterfall
What is a conservation easement?
A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a charitable organization or government entity that permanently preserves scenic or agricultural open space, natural habitat, or recreational areas (conservation values) for the benefit of the public. The owner places permanent restrictions on the future uses of some or all of his or her property to protect the conservation values. These agreements are individually tailored to protect the conservation values of the property while allowing the property to stay under private ownership and control. Conservation easements may preserve traditional land uses such as family farming and ranching. The restrictions usually limit the number of future homesites but can, and often do, limit other uses as well.
Conservation easements are specifically tailored to meet the conservation and financial/tax planning interests of each landowner. The final conservation easement for a specific property is the result of drafting and redrafting the document numerous times until all parties are satisfied. When an easement has been signed and recorded, the land trust must see that it is honored in perpetuity. The trust will visit the property annually thereafter and will defend the easement’s intent if necessary.
What happens to the easement if I sell the land or die?
A conserved land may be sold or passed down to one’s heirs. The easement agreement remains a permanent part of the title and will run with the land even after its transfer. The landowner may continue to use and enjoy the land in ways consistent with the easement, which may include ranching, recreation or other uses. In some circumstances, easements may allow for additional homesites on a small portion of the property, or may provide for small “disturbance envelopes’ within which the uses are not restricted by the easement.
If I donate an easement, what are the tax benefits?
A gift of a conservation easement frequently benefits a landowner by permanently protecting the important conservation qualities of the property without the landowner having to give up ownership, and by creating immediate tax advantages.
Easements that are (1) permanent, (2) donated by the landowner (or subject to a qualified bargain sale), and (3) provide one or more conservation values for public benefit typically qualify for tax benefits offered by the Internal Revenue Code and the Colorado Department of Revenue. The two main tax benefits associated with a donated conservation easement are income tax benefits and estate tax benefits. An independent appraisal, conducted by a qualified appraiser, of the value of the easement determines the extent of the tax benefits.
To qualify for a deduction, the agreement must be properly structured and must provide significant benefit to the public by satisfying one or more recognized ‘conservation purpose’ as defined by Internal Revenue Code Section 170H. These are:
- the preservation of land areas for outdoor recreation by, or the education of, the general public
- the protection of a relatively natural habitat of fish, wildlife, or plants, or similar ecosystem
- the preservation of open space (including farmland and forest land) where such preservation is for the scenic enjoyment of the general public or pursuant to clearly delineated Federal, State or local government conservation policy and will yield a significant public benefit
- the preservation of an historically important land area or a certified historic structure
What type of property is appropriate for protection with an Eagle Valley Land Trust conservation easement?
Each property is evaluated individually after careful investigation of its resources and qualities. Depending on the property, sometimes one factor alone is significant enough to merit protection, other times several factors combine to make the property important to preserve. Generally, a property is a good candidate for protection with a conservation easement if the land:
- includes important wildlife habitat or known wildlife migration routes.
- buffers wildlife habitat, so that its protection from dense development would diminish impacts on wildlife from dogs, cars and concentration of human activities.
- is in active ranching or other agricultural use.
- is visible from major highways, from rivers used by the public for recreation or from public-use areas.
- is in a relatively natural, undisturbed condition.
- shares a boundary with, or is in close proximity to Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management properties
- is adjacent to, or in close proximity to, private land that is already permanently protected or that is likely to be protected in the foreseeable future.
- is situated such that its development would obstruct or diminish scenic views or would interfere with view across already protected open.
- borders or affects the integrity of a significant river, stream or creek in the area.
- is of sufficient size that its conservation resources are likely to remain intact, even if adjacent properties are developed.
How does the Eagle Valley Land Trust steward its conservation easements?
The Eagle Valley Land Trust monitors each conservation property at least annually to ensure that the terms of the conservation easement are being met. If a violation of an easement is discovered, it is the Land Trust’s legal and moral obligation to ensure that the violation is rectified. The Land Trust has had very few easement violations to date. Still, the Land Trust is prepared to defend all of its easements should a major violation or legal challenge occur. Towards this end, the Land Trust is building a quasi-endowment fund of sufficient size to ensure that it is financially capable of stewarding its easements and conservation lands in perpetuity. The Land Trust operates its easement stewardship program in accordance with the Land Trust Alliance’s Standards and Practices.
If I put a conservation easement on my property, must I allow public access?
No. You are not required to allow public access, even if public funds are used to purchase the conservation easement. Most of the property protected with Eagle Valley Land Trust conservation easements remains in private ownership with public access restricted by the landowner. However, the Land Trust does currently hold easements on several properties on which public access is not only allowed, but encouraged.
Are there circumstance where the Land Trust would not accept a donated easement?
Yes. The Eagle Valley Land Trust may decline to accept a conservation easement for any reason. Reasons include, but are not limited to: the Trust deems that the reserved rights or proposed development on the land will interfere with the preservation of the conservation values; it believes that the easement does not provide significant public benefit; if there are not documentable conservation values to meet IRS requirements, or if conservation is required for approval of a development. The Eagle Valley Land Trust reserves the right to accept or deny a conservation easement in its sole discretion. Please contact us for more information.
How do I determine the value of a donated easement?
Only a qualified real estate appraiser can determine the value of an easement donation for tax purposes. The appraiser will consider the property’s ‘highest and best use’ — under current zoning — and its value with an easement on it. The difference between these two figures is the value of the donation.
What is the difference between the Eagle Valley Land Trust and the Eagle County Open Space Committee?
Although the ultimate goal of both organizations is to protect the natural and scenic resources of the Eagle Valley, the method of doing so varies between organizations. The Eagle Valley Land Trust is a non-political organization that uses the conservation easement as its primary tool to help conserve privately owned lands in perpetuity. The Eagle County Open Space Advisory Committee was formed as part of the voter-approved Referendum 1H to provide recommendations to the Eagle County Board of Commissioners on the use of tax-generated open space funds.
A History of the Eagle Valley Land Trust
The Eagle Valley Land Trust was founded in 1981 by rancher Roger Tilkemeier. Originally called the Eagle County Land Conservancy, the organization became the Eagle Valley Land Trust in 1982 as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization supported entirely by charitable contributions. It was the third land trust established in the state of Colorado.
From 1981 to 1997, the Eagle Valley Land Trust was operated solely by a dedicated group of volunteer conservationists who served on the Board of Directors. The all-volunteer organization created awareness of the need for conservation in Eagle County and educated the public about the benefits of land management, wildlife habitat protection and the use of conservation easements. During this time, they accepted the first donations of land, made by the Johnson ranching family in the Brush Creek area of Eagle, Colorado. The Johnson Family lands were placed into conservation easement in 1993, the first recorded conservation easement for the Eagle Valley Land Trust.
The recording of this first conservation easement generated renewed energy amongst the volunteer-led organization. Long-time Board President Terrill Knight reinvigorated the Eagle Valley Land Trust, added several new board members and began a fundraising campaign to raise the necessary money to hire a full-time professional staff member. In 1996, the Land Trust was awarded a grant by the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund, which was matched by local dollars to complete the funding necessary to hire an Executive Director to lead the organization.
After a substantial search, the Land Trust hired Brad Udall, son of U.S. Congressman Mo Udall and nephew of U. S. Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall, as their first Executive Director in May, 1997. He served as Executive Director from 1997 to 2001. Under Brad’s leadership, the Land Trust completed several significant projects, including the permanent protection of the Webster Ranch, the first conservation easement placed in the pristine Lake Creek Valley, an early achievement the Land Trust continues to build upon to this day with our “We Like Lake Creek!” campaign. During Brad Udall’s tenure, nearly 2,000 acres of private property were protected with conservation easements. The Land Trust was also successful in the public acquisition of more than 1,800 acres along East and West Brush Creek which became part of Sylvan Lake State Park.
In 2002, driven by the energy and leadership of long-time supporter Diana Cecala and President Emeritus, Dr. Thomas Steinberg, the Eagle Valley Land Trust helped to organize and lead a community-wide effort to create a dedicated source of funds at the County level to acquire open space and conserve it for the benefit of the citizens of Eagle County. A citizen-drafted ballot initiative was undertaken, and in the Fall elections of 2002, Referendum 1H was passed by the voters to establish a dedicated mill levy specifically ear-marked for open space projects in our community. In early 2003, responding to the will of the people, the Eagle County Commissioners established the Eagle County Open Space Program which is funded annually by the mill levy authorized by the voters.
From 2002 to 2009, the Eagle Valley Land Trust saw a period of growth, adding 14 conservation easements to the community portfolio of permanently protected land, consisting of more than 4,000 acres conserved forever for the people of Eagle County. The Executive Director during these years was Cindy Cohagan. One of the highlights of these years was the creation of The Eagle River Preserve, a 72-acre conservation easement created from the former Eaton Family Ranch. The Preserve has become a “central park” for our mid-valley region with over a mile of publically accessible river frontage.
In 2004, the Land Trust received the coveted and highly competitive “Non-Profit of the Year” Award presented by the Vail Valley Partnership – our community’s Chamber, Tourism and Convention Bureau. Eagle Valley Land Trust was selected in February 2007 to be one of 22 land trusts to participate in the Land Trust Alliance Accreditation Commission’s pilot program. In September 2008, EVLT became one of the first to be awarded national accreditation by the Land Trust Alliance based on a rigorous external review of the governance and management of the organization, and its systems and policies used to protect land. The accreditation seal is awarded to land trusts that meet national quality standards for protecting important natural places and working lands forever.
In 2009, Kara Heide was named Executive Director of the organization and she serves in that capacity today. Heide is a 35-year veteran of Vail Resorts, Inc. and former Senior Director of Corporate Contributions and Public Affairs for the resort company. Under her leadership, community outreach, public awareness and conservation education have become a strong focus for the Land Trust. The annual conservation easement monitoring program and land stewardship program were also expanded. During this time, an effort to connect people to the lands that they love was undertaken, and priority was given to local conservation projects offering public access and passive outdoor recreational opportunities to the citizens and guests of our community. From public hiking trails to public access along our local rivers and streams, the Land Trust saves land for the people of our community.
Thus far in 2012, the Eagle Valley Land Trust has added 5 new conservation easements, totaling more than 350 acres of publicly accessible lands for the citizens of Eagle County. The hallmark of these efforts was the successful Homestead Conservation and Public Recreation Project providing extensive public trail systems and ‘front door’ access points directly from local neighborhoods into the White River National Forest. The achievement of this ‘front door’ access was Phase II of the Land Trust’s “We Like Lake Creek!” campaign to create a mosaic of conservation in the Lake Creek region.
The Eagle Valley Land Trust annually stewards, monitors and inspects over 6,500 acres of land conserved for the benefit of our county, its residents and our guests; and has helped to protect nearly 10,000 acres of land in the greater Eagle River Valley and surrounding counties. Currently, the Land Trust holds conservation easements on 24 properties that include working ranches, scenic viewsheds, riparian and wildlife habitats, and community accessible open space. These properties stretch from East Vail to the entrance of Glenwood Canyon and from Tennessee Pass near Leadville to Yarmony Mountain near the Routt County border.
Your local Land Trust continues to actively pursue new conservation projects for the people of Eagle County by identifying future lands for protection within our mountain community.
Open space preservation not only benefits the environment and enhances quality of place, it can also benefit residents when it comes to tax time. It often costs a municipality less to buy selected open land than for residents to pay the higher taxes that result from development to build additional schools, to improve roads and to increase municipal services. Some studies have indicated that when a community buys and preserves land rather than allowing houses on every farm field, they break even on their investment within a few years. Read more…
Resources for Landowners
Are you a landowner looking for more information about conservation easements? Perhaps you are considering donating and easement and need a primer on the ins and outs of the process? We have a whole section of our website dedicated to you! Visit our Landowner Resources page now.