Community Agriculture Alliance: Open lands forever – together | SteamboatToday.com

Community Agriculture Alliance: Open lands forever – together

Open space has always been a defining feature of Routt County — one of its core attributes that is embedded in our identity, culture and outdoor lifestyle.  It's the first thing that greets us as we crest Rabbit Ears Pass, instantly shaping our perceptions of the area before a 2,500-foot descent to the valley floor below.

The wealth of open land here is easy to take for granted, but we urge you to take a step back and remember how Routt County has held onto its rural character over time.

Yampa Valley Land Trust and other conservation groups have spent decades working to keep this characteristic tethered to Northwest Colorado.  It's required a herculean effort among land trusts, public and private landowners and Routt County citizens who were determined to preserve the elements that make this area so unique: its scenic vistas, pristine watersheds, open agricultural lands, proximity to outdoor recreation and plethora of wildlife habitat.

Take a look around, and you will see the profound impact land conservation has made throughout our valley.  The results are all around us, from isolated dirt roads to Routt County's primary travel arteries.

You can experience it firsthand starting at the foot of the Sleeping Giant north to Hahns Peak, where YVLT has permanently protected more than 8,800 acres in the Elk River Valley — conservation projects like Colorado Highway 131 from Oak Creek to Yampa, where rolling pastures and hay meadows dominate the scenery all the way to the foothills of the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.  Or follow Routt County Road 14 past Stagecoach State Park, and you will see five consecutive miles of the Yampa River conserved by YVLT, gluing together the riparian landscape.

All of this was possible because of a decision Routt County voters made more than 20 years ago to maintain open space using a Purchase of Development Rights program.  PDR began with a vision to protect large tracts of open land using a local funding source to incentivize conservation.  The program was approved by Routt County voters in 1996 and renewed through 2025 and financed by a 1.5 mill property tax (one "mill" is $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value).

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This unique conservation tool gave ranchers and other individuals with significant land holdings a viable alternative to subdividing or selling their properties altogether.

More than 50,000 acres have been permanently protected here using PDR funds — that's about 46 square miles, or roughly 4 1/2 times the size of Steamboat Springs.  The availability of PDR and other funding mechanisms has positioned the land trust to conserve more than 30,000 acres throughout Routt County, along with nearly 15 miles of the Yampa River to date.

Land conservation requires a community-wide effort.  Thank you to the great people of Routt County. Your unwavering support for open lands makes our work possible at YVLT.  This circles back to our mantra: "Open lands forever — together."

Bryce Hinchman is a conservation associate at Yampa Valley Land Trust, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.  To learn more about our work, visit yvlt.org