County awards over $1 million for conservation easements |

County awards over $1 million for conservation easements

A photo of Elk Mountain Ranch, which received $580,000 to conserve all 637 acres. It was one of the first successful conservation easements in Grand County in several years, due in part to the distrust of the system from previous corruption.

Grand County awarded its first-ever conservation easement grants Monday with the fall disbursement of the Open Lands, Rivers and Trails fund.

Six open lands and trails projects received over $1.2 million dollars for work in Grand County, including two conservation easements totaling over 900 acres of protected private property.

“This is actually a monumental day to have these requests before the board,” County Manager Kate McIntire said.

Anna Drexler-Dreis, administrator of the Open Lands, Rivers and Trails fund, explained the two open lands applications were the first conservation easement acquisition grants awarded by the fund.

The commissioners approved a $550,000 grant to the Colorado Headwaters Land Trust for a 270 acre conservation easement outside of Hot Sulphur Springs that serves as a buffer between the town and the Arapaho National Forest. It also provides wildlife habitat and scenic open space.

Drexler-Dreis said the project rated highly in part because the property is at a high risk of development and protecting this land is important to preserving the ecological corridor. The property is home to Himebaugh Creek and surrounding wetlands, as well as continually-flowing and ephemeral springs.

The commissioners awarded the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust a $580,000 grant for the second conservation easement, known as Elk Mountain Ranch, to protect the 637 acre property outside of Parshall.

“This was a unanimous recommendation by the committee,” Drexler-Dreis explained. “There are many partnerships indicating their support of the easement and there’s a supportive land owner.”

Alicia Ninesling, the owner of the property, is donating the remaining value of the easement, estimated at $564,750. According the Elk Mountain Ranch application, Ninesling wants to keep the property within her family while preserving it as is.

Elk Mountain Ranch provides wildlife habitat for species such as lynx, black bears and greater sage grouse, as well as conserves a headwaters section of Corral Creek, a tributary to the Colorado River. It’s also leased for summer pasture to local agricultural producers.

Aside from two open lands grants approved, the commissioners also awarded just over $130,000 to the Headwaters Trails Alliance for four trails projects in the county.

The Trails Smart Sizing program happening in the Fraser Valley received $60,000 for trail work this year, including a bridge construction, trail reroutes, new trail construction and sustainability improvements. The approval requires the addition of a noxious weed plan.

Headwaters Trails Alliance received $5,500 for the organization of the 26th National Public Lands Day with the requirements that the organization steps up public outreach and the funding is acknowledged on the annual tee-shirt.

The Countywide Adopt-a-Trail program got $12,850 to continue next year. The program uses volunteers to oversee trails and conduct trail maintenance on scheduled project days throughout the season. In 2019, the program completed 38 projects, which is double the amount of previous years thanks to the trails funding.

Lastly, for work on the Thomasson Trail in Grand Lake, HTA received $53,388. The project aims to improve the trail’s drainage and tread and remove a bridge crossing near the Gateway Inn that poses a public safety hazard.

After approving this cycle of grants, the open lands and rivers fund has a balance of $758,404 and the trails fund has a balance of $7,492.

To date, the fund has awarded over $2.7 million for local open lands and trails. The spring grant cycle opens Feb. 3.

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