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2016 open space purchases preserve 461 acres, including historic agricultural lands, trails and backcountry landscapes
Katherine King, Open Space & Trails
SUMMIT COUNTY – Celebrating its 20th year, the Summit County Open Space and Trails Program protected 461 acres of open space in 2016, at a cost of $2.3 million. This year's 21 land transactions furthered the County’s work to conserve agricultural lands, secure public recreational access and protect Summit County’s scenic backcountry character.
“It’s really incredible to look back over these two decades and see how much critical conservation work we’ve accomplished,” County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said. “We’ve successfully protected about 16,000 acres through strategic acquisitions that safeguard wildlife migration corridors, recreational access, scenic views and historical treasures.”
One of the most notable land acquisitions in 2016 protected 272 acres of irrigated hay meadows, rolling sage brush, aspen groves and conifer forest just south of Green Mountain Reservoir. The Doig Homestead’s undeveloped, sweeping scenery is visible from more than four miles of Highway 9 and Green Mountain Reservoir. Its protection furthers Open Space Program goals to preserve the rural character and critical wildlife habitat in northern Summit County.
Summit County purchased the property from one of the community’s original homesteading families for $2 million. In December, the County was awarded a $675,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) to help fund the purchase. County staff will develop a management plan for the property this winter that will address issues of public access and trails, and future agricultural uses and irrigation of the property. In the meantime, the land will continue to be leased for cattle grazing and hay production.
Acquisition of strategic parcels at the western Silverthorne town boundary will create an opportunity for trail connections from the town to the Mesa Cortina area. Three parcels, totaling almost 17 acres, were acquired with financial assistance from the Town of Silverthorne.
Summit County partnered with the Town of Breckenridge to purchase mining claims on Humbug Hill and Gibson Hill in the Golden Horseshoe, helping to ensure permanent public access to numerous motorized and non-motorized trails, including popular trail networks accessed from Gold Run Gulch and Humbug Hill roads. Protection of the claims also maintains the backcountry character of these areas by precluding additional road and home development.
Protecting recreational access is a key goal of the Summit County Open Space and Trails Program. U.S. Forest Service lands comprise almost 80 percent of the county’s land area, but access to these public lands can be hindered or blocked by parcels of private land, which are concentrated in the valleys. In addition to Golden Horseshoe-area acquisitions, backcountry mining claims purchased in 2016 on Baldy and Northstar mountains will also help protect the backcountry character of Summit County and its recreational opportunities.
In Peru Creek Basin, which feeds into the Snake River, the County acquired a group of mining claims and a restrictive covenant that will enable cleanup of the largest remaining unmitigated source of pollution into Peru Creek. The 38.79-acre Jumbo Mine Claims, acquired for $119,000, extend up onto the flanks of Tiptop Peak. They provide recreational access and help ensure the backcountry nature of Peru Creek Basin remains intact. Another 25.13 acres of mining claims in the Snake River Basin acquired by the Open Space Program in 2016 will protect similar conservation values.
Summit County acquired four new trail easements in 2016 to expand and protect its natural surface trails and paved Summit County Recpath system. The County maintains more than 60 miles of paved recreational pathways and natural surface trails, in addition to its open space properties.
Jointly with the Town of Breckenridge and Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, the Summit County Open Space and Trails Program constructed several new trails and trail reroutes, including the Mineral Hill Trail and Great Flume Trail reroutes. With the help of 80 volunteers, the County constructed a new trail to access the Dillon Nature Preserve from the existing parking lot and a trail across the Bob Craig Open Space to the Snake River. Other Open Space maintenance projects included turnpike construction in Soda Creek, Recpath shoulder repairs and stairway accesses, construction of several trail bridges, property cleanups and fence removal and annual natural surface trail maintenance.
After a decade of planning and strategic acquisitions, Summit County led efforts this year to restore more than a mile of the Swan River channel and riparian corridor between Muggins Gulch and Rock Island Road that had been decimated by historic dredge mining a century ago. The work rehabilitated more than 20 acres of habitat, in collaboration with numerous public and private partners, including the Town of Breckenridge, U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Water Conservation Board and Blue River Watershed Group. Project partners plan to continue restoration efforts upstream in coming years. Additional information about the Swan River Restoration Project is available at restoretheswanriver.com.
The Summit County Open Space Program is funded by a mill levy approved by voters in four elections, most recently in 2008. This 12-year funding mechanism provides about $1.2 million per year for open space property acquisition.
Established in 1996, the Summit County Open Space Program has preserved the rural mountain character of approximately 16,000 acres of land in Summit County via purchases, donations and conservation easements. For more information, visit the Open Space and Trails section of the Summit County website at www.SummitCountyCO.gov/openspace, or call Katherine King at 970-668-4061.