Easement preserves 2,800 acres of YMCA of the Rockies | SkyHiNews.com

Easement preserves 2,800 acres of YMCA of the Rockies

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi News
Grand County, CO Colorado
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News | Sky-Hi News

With gently sloping Sheep Mountain as a backdrop, policy makers and conservation advocates gathered at scenic Columbine Point at the YMCA of the Rockies on Wednesday, Aug. 18, to celebrate the culmination of a four-year journey to set aside 2,800 acres of land in preserve.

Because of the voluntary conservation easement, the land south of the YMCA campus boasting 50 miles of mountain trails, backcountry campsites, cross-country ski paths, rich wildlife habitat and tributaries to Pole Creek will remain undeveloped in perpetuity.

Federal money pooled with Colorado Lotto funds completed the easement transaction.

The generous amount of private acreage bordering U.S. Forest lands is considered one of the highest-ranking easements in the state, according to Christine Quinlan, western field representative of The Conservation Fund.

The Conservation Fund is a national nonprofit organization that facilitated the easement, working with the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado State Forest Service, Great Outdoors Colorado and the Colorado congressional delegation.

Valued at $9.4 million, the easement was purchased using $5 million from the federal Forest Legacy program through the U.S. and State Forest Services, with $1 million from the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund generated by Lotto proceeds, plus a $3.4 million donation in land value from the YMCA of the Rockies.

Unlike the Estes Park YMCA that had to sell off property in the 1930s to stabilize itself, YMCA of the Rockies near Tabernash took the conservation route to continue on its course of affordable outdoors programs, conferences and family lodging – without the need to sell property to facilitate its mission, said YMCA CEO Kent Meyer. The one-time sale of property development rights allows YMCA to retain the jobs of up to 500 seasonal and year-round employees, he said.

The Colorado State Forest Service will manage the easement, but the land of will still belong to the YMCA.

“This conservation preserve has been a significant collaborative effort of many organizations working together,” Meyer said. “We are so pleased that this land and the wildlife that live here will remain an amazing outdoor experience for future youth and families who visit Snow Mountain Ranch.”

Several officials at the Aug. 18 ceremony commented on the importance of sharing natural environments with younger generations.

U.S. Representative Jared Polis, U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, and Colorado Senators Al White and Dan Gibbs were all supportive of the appropriation that funded the easement.

Outdoor experiences like those found at the YMCA are “inspiring young people in some cases to a life of work in the environment,” said Polis, “or inspiring them to a life of valuing our natural heritage and taking with them that value in their roles as citizens, regardless of where their professional roles may take them.”

Drawing a total of about 77,000 visitors per year, the YMCA ranch accommodates about 6,500 young people annually, known to be a “retreat where youth, families and national and international conference groups can connect with nature.”

The Forest Legacy Program is one of the only sources of federal funding dedicated to protecting private forested lands. Since 2000, the Legacy program has protected more than 12,000 acres in Colorado, utilizing $10.5 million in Forest Legacy funds. Those funds have been matched by $9.6 million from other sources, primarily Great Outdoors Colorado funds and landowner donations.

According to Quinlan, the success of the YMCA easement has become a model for a similar 3,000-acre easement in progress at Ben Delatour Scout Ranch in Larimer County.

“At a time when youth camps across the country are being sold, and children are increasingly alienated from nature,” Quinlan said, “the collaborative efforts of these private and public partners allows the YMCA of the Rockies to achieve its goal of protecting Snow Mountain Ranch for future generations.”

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