Grant to help protect Yampa

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A package of grants worth more than $200,000 has been awarded to help protect the Yampa River corridor.

The Colorado Conservation Trust announced the award Tuesday, the first package grant awarded this calendar year.

"Over the last decade, Routt County has been a leader in promoting private, voluntary land conservation," said Will Shafroth, executive director of the Colorado Conservation Trust. "But significant challenges remain. We at CCT are proud to support the local efforts to preserve the rich heritage of this special place."

The $206,000 package grant is divided among five projects, with the bulk of the funds going to two efforts to protect land along the Yampa River corridor.

The city of Steamboat Springs is receiving $100,000 to help protect one of the last parcels needed to conserve the river corridor through the city. Of those funds, $50,000 is coming from The Kettering Family Foundation.

"We very much appreciate the generosity of the Colorado Conservation Trust and the Kettering Family Foundation and thank them for recognizing the importance of the city's initiative to protect part of the Yampa River corridor for open space and public access," said Paul Strong, president of the Steamboat Springs City Council.

The Nature Conservancy is receiving a $75,000 challenge grant to help purchase a conservation easement on 1,281 acres of Wolf Mountain Ranch, a 22,000-acre ranch northeast of Hayden.

The purchase is part of an overall goal to protect 1,800 acres, which will be funded partially by an $885,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado.

Eventually, The Nature Cons-ervancy hopes to protect a larger portion of the ranch.

"We are so excited that the Colorado Conservation Trust has supported this project," said Ann Oliver, Yampa River Project director for The Nature Conservancy. The private funds the trust is providing are "invaluable" in leveraging other public funds, she said.

The property has scenic value, because anyone driving along U.S. Highway 40 sees the ridge and supports grouse populations and ranching operations, Oliver said. It also includes a 102-acre island in the Yampa River that supports bald eagles, sandhill cranes and cottonwood forest.

Of the remaining funds, $15,000 has been designated for polling and outreach efforts to reauthorize the Routt County Purchase of Development Rights program; up to $10,000 to analyze the potential of a transferable development rights program in Routt County; and $6,000 to complete a survey and analysis on economic benefits and open space and agricultural lands in Routt County.

Providing grants to several groups should help meet the overall goal of protecting the river corridor, which is critical at this time.

"The Yampa River is one of the most hydrologically and biologically intact river systems in the West," Shafroth said. "Increasing development threatens to overtake the ranches, open spaces and the river corridor."

Last year, the Colorado Cons-ervation Trust awarded about $750,000 in package grants to several areas. The funds the trust awards come from private donors, many of who prefer to be anonymous. This is the first time the Yampa Valley area has received a grant from the trust.

Since 2000, the trust has awarded more than $10 million for land conservation and has helped protect more than 30,000 acres through the state.

There is no formal application process for the private dollars. Rather, the Colorado Cons-ervation Trust does conservation assessments in communities across the state through which it gathers information from local conservation groups, then it determines how to help.

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