Mountain of money sought

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— The citizens group trying to save Emerald Mountain from development has $127 in its banking account, and that money came from its own board members.

Now the group has to collect only $16,999,873 more to purchase the 6,400 acres it is trying to save.

"We need some short-term operation money now," said Doug Monger, a county commissioner and board member of the Emerald Mountain Partnership.

The nonprofit group held its annual meeting Monday and got a boost in morale after a half-dozen citizens stopped by to learn more about the effort.

"I love that mountain and I've lived here all my life," said local resident Lynn Abbott. "I would die if it had houses all over it."

It's that kind of sentiment that the Partnership hopes to build on as it starts to work on a membership drive that would help fund day-to-day operations.

"Right now Routt County is contributing staff, paper and copying," said Ben Beall, chairman of the Partnership's board. "And the city provided some legal work, but there are still ongoing costs."

Beall cited more legal work as an example, along with the need for money to pay for public meetings and a possible Web site that the citizens could access for continuous information.

Emerald Partnership currently is run with a bevy of volunteers who have the huge task of informing the public why it is important to save the mountain from development, and why it is important to contribute to the cause with taxes or donations. Emerald Mountain sits as the western backdrop for Steamboat Springs and is adjacent to Howelsen Hill, a major recreational area for the public.

The Partnership is shooting for 100 percent conservation with no development. Its top two priorities are saving the land for wildlife and agricultural preservation, followed by recreational use that would not harm the first two goals.

The first step is to have a membership drive outlined by March that would allow the public to donate a yearly sum.

"We need to explain what the money would do," said board member Dr. Dan Smilkstein. "We need to build a list of private contributors, maybe start a newsletter for contributors."

While those day-to-day operating expenses are important, the Partnership is turning to volunteer Susan Otis to come up with a list of institutions and organizations that offer large amounts of grant money for conservation efforts.

Otis is the muscle behind the Yampa Valley Land Trust that has saved thousands of acres in Routt County through her work with conservation buyers, granting institutions, conservation-minded citizens and other groups.

Otis modestly called her part in the Partnership a "homework assignment," but Beall said she is key in finding funding sources.

Otis said she hopes to have a list of grant sources by March.

In the meantime, the Partnership is preparing for its first public meeting in March to educate the public on Emerald Mountain. The group hopes to sign up people in a membership drive and get them introduced to the idea of possibly using tax money to fund some portion of the mountain.

Don Richards and his wife showed up out of curiosity for the Emerald Partnership's annual meeting. A tax would be palatable to him if the public were able to use parts of the mountain for recreation.

"I wouldn't want to have a big tax and then let someone else use it," Richards said. "That wouldn't make sense to me."

To make sure all its ducks are in a row, the Emerald board is considering hiring a professional firm to conduct a scientific survey to make sure the public is polled in a professional manner. The Emerald Partnership also has the option of purchasing parts of Emerald Mountain, including 1,500 acres attached to Howelsen Hill.

The 1,500 acres could be purchased for about $2 million and would likely be used for recreational purposes, including connecting the land to existing trails that are already open to the public. However, the Partnership has five years to come up with funding to purchase all the land before that right is turned back over to the State Land Board.

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