Protecting private lands through conservation easements

December 28, 2018

The majority of land acreage protected by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails funding is held privately as conservation easements. A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and qualified organization in which perpetual restrictions are placed on a property to protect identified conservation values and limit development. Simply put, a conservation easement allows a private property owner to protect their property from unwanted activities forever.

Pitkin County was granted its first easement in 1983, seven years before the creation of the Open Space and Trails (OST) program. After the creation of OST, the County had funding to purchase conservation easements; to date it has spent over $32 million working with landowners in Pitkin County to create conservation easements that protect agricultural, wildlife, scenic, historic and recreation values. Pitkin County holds 62 conservation easements that are managed by OST.

OST staff visits the conservation easement properties at least once a year to meet with the landowners and ensure the conservation values are being protected. Each conservation easement is unique and allows different types of activities to occur. For example, the Jerome Park Conservation Easement allows public access through the property to access U.S. Forest Service land through Marion Gulch and allows the public to ski at the Spring Gulch Nordic Area (pictured above). The easement also covers a portion of the Sunlight Ski area. Other easements are more restrictive; several easements are inaccessible to the public and have no development rights, which makes them havens for wildlife throughout the year.

Public lands, managed by the Forest Service, BLM, State, etc., accounts for 84 percent of the land in Pitkin County. The remaining 16 percent of the land is privately owned; it is mostly located in valleys and irrigated areas around the Roaring Fork and Crystal rivers, and their tributaries. By protecting these private properties, the County is protecting winter range and vitally important riparian areas for wildlife. Standard language in these agreements also requires wildlife friendly fencing and management practices.

The State of Colorado annually certifies Pitkin County Open Space and Trails as an organization that is qualified to hold and administer a conservation easement program. The State ensures that OST staff monitors properties and that the program has the proper standards and practices in place to effectively protect the values that have been conserved.

The OST conservation easement program does not get as much attention from the public as the trails and properties that are owned by the County, but they are an important part of the County’s mission to provide valued and high-quality public services supporting the health, safety and well-being of people and the natural environment.

Quick Stats (as of December 2018)

Contact Paul Holsinger, OST Agriculture and Conservation Easement Administrator, for more information at (970) 920-5237 or Paul.Holsinger@pitkincounty.com