Saving Emerald Mountain

Group meeting Monday to discuss different funding strategies

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— The Emerald Mountain Partnership is putting the idea of a conservation buyer on hold in its effort to save land on the mountain near downtown from development. First it will try to gauge how much the public would be willing to pay in taxes or donate to the effort.

"We want to ask the public how they feel," said Ben Beall, chairman of the Emerald Mountain Partnership Board.

Beall said the Emerald board is starting a public campaign to get people to come forward to talk about and explore what kind of sources can be used to finance the purchase.

He predicts that saving the 6,500 acres that serve as the southern backdrop for Steamboat Springs will be a priority for many people who live in and around the city.

"We would ask the public if they would be willing to tax themselves," Beall said.

Beall stressed that the public could get back some of its money in the form of ski trails and running, biking and hiking trails.

"We can explore how do parts of Emerald Mountain tie into the Howelsen Hill recreational activities," Beall said by way of example.

The 6,500 acres on Emerald Mountain are part of the state's trust lands, which the constitution requires to be managed to to reap the most money for public schools. However, the Emerald land has been placed in a special category that, while still requiring revenue for the state, encourages stewardship and long-term preservation.

The land is worth about $17 million, though, and taxation would be just one part of the financial puzzle.

The Emerald Mountain board also is exploring getting large chunks of money from granting institutions as well as individuals who are concerned with conservation.

"There are private individuals who want to contribute, but not in an ownership role," said board member Dan Smilkstein. Private donors, for example, might be invited to serve on an advisory board.

Smilkstein and Beall stressed that the board's goals are threefold: to preserve wildlife; to preserve agriculture and provide recreation that doesn't interfere with those first two goals.

The meeting will begin at noon Monday in the Routt County Courthouse annex in the commissioners' hearing room.

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