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Behind the headlines

Q. Why do you want to save Elkins Meadow from development?

A. The special landscapes of Steamboat Springs and the Yampa Valley are disappearing at an alarming rate. Fish Creek Falls Meadow (formerly Elkins Meadow) is one of those incredibly special places. It is one of the last remaining open meadows within the city. It provides habitat for elk (35 last Wednesday) and many other species. The meadow also creates the scenic gateway to the popular Fish Creek Falls Recreation Area.

The meadow has also been used for recreation, since the previous owner had allowed some formal and informal public access. Trails through the property linked the surrounding neighborhoods to Fish Creek Falls and the Sanctuary trails. The meadow also has provided terrain for the ski-touring center. If the community acquires the meadow we would be able to not only reestablish these crucial trail linkages, but also expand the recreation opportunities. Trails on the meadow would provide safer access to Fish Creek Falls than the extremely dangerous county road that many residents now use to walk or bike to the falls.

The Friends of Fish Creek Falls Meadow feel strongly that the public needs to know that the landowner will consider an offer to acquire the property for conservation. All too often the public laments the loss of open space after the fact, saying they wished they had had the opportunity to contribute to its preservation.

Q. Why should the entire community care about this particular property?

A. Numerous surveys over the past decade have indicated that the majority of people in this community have identified open lands and wildlife habitat protection as a top priority. These community members are passionate about protecting the landscapes that make Steamboat Springs and the Yampa Valley a very special place. This property in particular has been considered a priority for conservation. We understand that not everyone in the community will care about this project.

Again, our goal is to inform the public of this last opportunity to save Fish Creek Falls Meadow. This is an unusual situation where a developer will consider selling to the community a priority conservation property now scheduled for development.

Q. Could you have attempted to save the parcel at an earlier date? Why or why not?

A. The previous landowner was approached in an attempt to conserve the property, but determined that conservation was not an option that worked for his family. Contacts have also been made with potential conservation buyers someone that would buy the parcel for one or a very limited number of homesites and then conserve the balance of the property. The parcel was actually under contract with a conservation buyer before purchase by the current owner.

This contract, however, was contingent on a “1031-Exchange,” which did not occur within the required time frame. Conservation options were then presented to the current owner, the Wharton Group, including the option of limited development of no more than four homes, with the remainder donated as a conservation easement. At the time, the Wharton Group stated it was not interested in conservation, but would consider sale of the parcel to the community for acquisition costs of $3.8 million, plus out-of-pocket expenses. These expenses are anticipated to be approximately $200,000 to $300,000 by the April 2002 closing date. The price has been substantiated by an appraisal and does not include profit to the development group.

Q. How are you going to raise the money? When is the cutoff date?

A. The total amount needed is approximately $4 million, which we realize is a very large amount. We are also seeking grants from public and private funding sources, but local funds and support are often required. Thus, donations of all sizes are needed to indicate the level of local interest. Of the total amount needed, more than $500,000 has been raised or pledged.

An alternative to public acquisition is to identify a conservation buyer to acquire the property and donate a conservation easement. Public access may or may not be allowed under this option. It is understood that another option would be to sell several lots to raise a portion of the required funds, but the developer has stated it will not consider this approach.

The majority of the funds will need to be available by Jan. 8, 2002. The Wharton Group has stated it will consider the sale of the property if we have the funding to back up a purchase contract by this date. The Yampa Valley Land Trust is assisting the friends by accepting contributions to this effort. If the project is not successful, all donations will be returned.

Q. What sort of access would the public have to the property if it had a conservation easement on it?

A. If the community raises the necessary funds, then public access will be ensured. If a private conservation buyer preserves the property, there is no guarantee of public access. The conservation buyer would determine whether or not there is public access to the property and may require that the community purchase access rights.

Ideally, we would like the City of Steamboat Springs to own the meadow for passive recreational use, such as hiking, biking, nordic skiing, and snowshoeing. The Friends of Fish Creek Falls Meadow have informally discussed the idea of city ownership with individual council members and city staff. We will formally present the concept to the new City Council on Dec. 4.

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