Greenprinting for Success—Land&People

When Doug Robotham was vacationing in southwestern Colorado two years ago, he took a tour with David Baxter, president of local Crested Butte Land Trust. Heading north from the fashionable ski resort along the East River, the two ascended the steeply walled valley that is bordered by the Raggeds Wilderness to the west and the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness to the east.

"It is fantastic subalpine valley smack dab in the middle of two vast wilderness areas," says Robotham, who heads TPL's Colorado Office. "But there also are six thousand acres of privately owned mining claims and building lots platted in the mining heyday of the 1880s."

In recent years, the Crested Butte Land Trust, in partnership with the Crested Butte ski resort and the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, had purchased about half of the potential home sites in Schofield, a deserted mining town, but had run into difficulties acquiring the rest. Just collecting the remainder of the land did not seem to Robotham a bold enough approach.

"I said, 'David, it's not about acquiring a handful of building lots, it's about protecting the whole valley corridor. I think we'd have a stronger case if we could create a really grand vision and take that big picture to potential funders.' I said, 'Let's blow this thing up, get really aggressive.' And he said, 'Great idea. How do we do that?'"

In response, Robotham described "greenprinting"--TPL's comprehensive approach to helping communities identify land for conservation and strategies for protecting it. He suggested that such a "greenprint" be created for the threatened valley.

With the land trust's enthusiastic support, Robotham wrote a proposal to Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), a state agency that distributes the conservation-oriented proceeds of the state lottery, in which he offered a vision for protecting the entire valley system, encompassing the upper East River and upper Crystal River valleys from Gothic over Schofield Pass and on down to Marble. The area targeted for protection--some 6,000 acres--was named the High Elk Conservation Corridor. "I wanted to get away from a piecemeal approach to conservation," says Robotham. "People got really excited about the idea. It just snowballed."

The result was a GOCO grant for the first step in a TPL greenprint, a vision for protecting the priority conservation lands in the valley while allowing for responsible growth and development. The grant has funded a collaborative planning process by which TPL, the Crested Butte and Aspen Valley Land Trusts, Gunnison County, the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, the High Country Citizens Alliance, the ski resort, and the laboratory have identified 1,000 to 1,500 acres as priority acquisitions to maintain the character of the valley.

Taking the Long View

Taking inventory of the resources on the ground was key, Robotham says. "Using computer mapping we charted riparian and wetland areas, wildlife corridors, trails, and the viewshed--those spectacular vistas of the Rockies that define the character of this remarkable place."

The working group also prepared a map showing land holdings in the corridor, including the relationship of private to public land and to sensitive natural areas. The map helped prioritize lands for acquisition by allowing the group to assess threats to the lands that could be built upon. This extensive research became the basis of a case statement that TPL and its partners will use to raise funds from private and public sources.

Greenprinting not only helps growing communities come up with a widely embraced conservation vision, it takes the necessary next steps to turn vision into reality--finding the funding and negotiating the land deals.

"Greenprinting is an outgrowth of TPL's traditional land-acquisition role," says TPL president Will Rogers. "Our standard way of working might be called '911 conservation.' We'd get a call for help when the bulldozers were poised and revving. Hopefully, we'd be able find a way to temporarily protect the land until we could find a conservation buyer.

"Through greenprinting we can help communities get ahead of the growth curve... and get land conservation out of the emergency room," Rogers says. Creating a vision, he says, is the first step of TPL's Greenprint for Growth program, which places land conservation among the more familiar tools--including zoning, regulation, and planning--for guiding growth.

"We start by asking: 'What are your community's natural, cultural, and historic features that tell you who you are, where you are? What do you want to see here 50 years from now?" Rogers explains. "The greenprinting process asks communities to identify, before it's too late, what lands shouldn't be developed. The challenge then is to turn that vision into a protected system of parks, trails, watersheds, and working landscapes like farms and forests. That way, as communities grow, they don't lose the places that define their identity."

Anatomy of a Greenprint

Douglas County, southeast of Denver, Colorado, was the nation's fastest-growing county in the 1990s. Population increased by 143 percent to more than 150,000, and it is expected to triple from the 1990 numbers by the year 2002. Adjacent Arapahoe County is right behind Douglas in population growth, according to the U.S. Census.

Cherry Creek meanders through downtown Denver and these two booming counties where tallgrasses and sagebrush have supported ranching for generations. But pink-ribboned survey stakes announce that new subdivisions are on the march.

Buying the 17-Mile House, a 19th-century stagecoach stop along the Cherokee Trail south of Denver, was a high priority for Douglas and Arapahoe Counties, and the catalyst for the Cherry Creek Corridor greenprinting effort. TPL negotiated the $3.7 million purchase of the historic property, which led to a more thoughtful look at the potential for parkland along the entire 35-mile creek. There was already a skeleton to build on--two state parks along the creek and the Cherry Creek Regional Trail that runs between them. Cherry Creek converges with the 10-mile South Platte River Greenway in Denver proper. "We saw the potential to link rural, suburban, and urban landscapes," Robotham explains. A broad-based steering committee of city, county, and neighborhood representatives now is exploring the feasibility of a greenway along Cherry Creek, anchored in part by the 17-Mile House.

Local, state, and federal entities--16 in all--are involved in the first stages of putting together a funding base for the Cherry Creek greenprint. Douglas County already has a sales tax dedicated to open space conservation, which it may try to expand. Arapahoe County and the town of Parker are exploring referenda as a way to fund the project with TPL's help.

"We work with local communities and elected officials to help raise money to meet their open space and parks goals," says Adam Eichberg, associate director of TPL's Conservation Finance program. "We help determine the feasibility of a dedicated funding source. This could be new taxes or bonds, commitment of an existing tax, a line-item in the budget, or some other method to provide new money for conservation. We do polling, write ballot language, make sure the ballot meets legal requirements. It's a soup-to-nuts concept through election day," he says. Last year TPL worked with more than 50 communities nationwide that passed 39 measures creating $3.3 billion for parks and open space.

Planning to Keep Georgia Green

In Georgia, a TPL-led greenprinting effort aims to create the country's longest urban park--a 180-mile greenway along the Chattahoochee River. The greenway, which would extend from Helen through the city of Atlanta and the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area to Columbus, would improve water quality by protecting land along the river that otherwise would be developed, while providing public access to the river for recreation.

To raise public support for this ambitious program, TPL and other nonprofit, business, and government partners, including the National Park Service, formed the Chattahoochee River Land Protection Campaign. The ability to leverage funds from many sources proved crucial to the campaign. "Federal funds were critical to the Chattahoochee River Greenway," says Alan Front, TPL's senior vice president for federal affairs. "This and other large greenprinting efforts around the country could never succeed without federal support."

Public support for the Chattahoochee project was so strong that the state agreed to provide $35 million to the effort. The greenway also drew $25 million from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Combined with monies from local governments along the river and from private donations, the Chattahoochee campaign has generated $143 million for the greenway. More than 57 miles of the river have been protected so far. TPL's land acquisition services helped protect 47 properties, while 20 more are either under contract or committed.

TPL is working with counties throughout fast-growing metro Atlanta. In DeKalb County, voters approved a referendum for $125 million to acquire green space and repair existing parks. Led by newly elected County CEO Vernon Jones and supported by Citizens for DeKalb Greenspace and a wide range of environmental groups, the measure passed with 58 percent of the vote. TPL assisted with fundraising, polling, and communications for the campaign. "Our county was growing so fast that we weren't keeping up with the demands placed on our parks and open spaces," says Jones. "TPL gave us the tools we needed to remedy that."

Seattle Communities Unite to Guide Growth

Another ambitious vision has evolved along the I-90 corridor east of Seattle. The impetus for the project came from the ground up, says Nancy Keith, executive director of the Mountains to Sound Greenway. As Seattle began spreading outward toward the small timber towns and farming communities to the east, the Issaquah Alps Trail Club began to mobilize support for an unbroken ribbon of protected land from the Puget Sound to the Cascade Mountains, 120 miles to the east. "They realized that if they didn't do something, suburban development was going to roll all the way to the mountains," Keith recalls.

A 70-member advisory committee was formed in 1991, with participants from federal, state, and local governments, as well as landowners, recreation interests, wildlife experts, and others. The committee eventually produced a map that outlined the vision for the greenway.

"The greenway built coalitions," Keith says. "The board of directors represents nearly every conceivable interest group, including many traditional opponents, like environmental activists and timber companies." TPL since has helped protect about 9,000 acres along the greenway, using federal funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Forest Legacy Program, along with state monies and local funds raised through a 1989 bond initiative in King County.

As with the other steps in the greenprinting process, land acquisition is tailored to community needs and preferences. Much of the open land in the Mountains to Sound Greenway, for instance, is owned by timber companies. "We knew at the outset that there wasn't much point in the idea if the timber companies wouldn't support it," says Jim Ellis, a founder and president of the Mountains to Sound Greenway. "But they did, and they continue to"--in part because the greenway supports timber harvesting on some parcels. Preserving such "working landscapes" has a practical side. It allows the greenway to qualify for federal Forest Legacy funds, which help maintain working forestlands and have been used to purchase many tracts in the Mountains to Sound Greenway.

"If the area isn't logged to produce some revenue, it will almost certainly be subdivided," Nancy Keith points out. "Trees grow back, but houses are a permanent fixture."

Restoring Miami's River

One of TPL's newest greenprinting efforts focuses on the Miami River, which flows for five miles from what once was the Everglades through downtown Miami and into Florida's Biscayne Bay. The Miami is a working river, contributing to some $5 billion in trade to the Caribbean and Latin America and providing thousands of local jobs. But pollution from industry, development, and agriculture in its 65-mile watershed has taken a toll on the river's health.

Healing the river is complicated by the fact that 36 separate agencies have jurisdiction over the waterway. "The river has been neglected for so long," says Ernie Martin, a member of the Miami River Commission and a TPL volunteer. "Over the years the city came up with ways to improve the river corridor, but those plans just gathered dust on shelves. With so many different agencies involved, you never knew where to turn."

In 1998 the state legislature created the Miami River Study Commission, bringing together numerous agencies and stakeholders to focus on the river's future. The commission asked TPL to study some of the issues affecting the river corridor and make recommendations for revitalizing parks and neighborhoods. Chuck Flink, president of Greenways Incorporated, worked in partnership with TPL to prepare the Miami River "greenprint."

"Over a two-year period we held dozens of meetings to hear from Miami's diverse neighborhoods, businesses, political and civic leaders, and the shipping industry," says Flink. "The vision we arrived at has been widely endorsed by local governments and the business community as a realistic strategy for river revitalization."

The five-year plan calls for environmentally friendly commercial and residential development, parks and open space, and recreational and cultural programs that reflect the river's unique character. The greenprint is moving from plan to reality with foundation support including a $2.5 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, funds from the Bank of America's Florida and National Foundations, the Dunn Foundation, Mary Flagler Cary Trust, the Munson Foundation, and others. The first improvements target parks, pathways, and lighting in lower-income neighborhoods on both sides of the river--historic Overtown on the north and East Little Havana on the south.

"We literally can build bridges between communities," says Brenda Marshall, director of TPL's South Florida Office. "Hopefully the greenway will provide an experience where people can get to know and appreciate Miami's rich cultural mix."

More and more conservation is happening at the local level. A National Association of Counties survey found that more than 80 percent of the roughly 3,000 counties in the United States are planning to set up land conservation programs. "Greenprinting isn't just about helping shape growth in fast-growing communities that are sprawling out onto rural landscapes," says Will Rogers. "It's about making cities themselves great places to live." Rogers adds: "Greenprinting is for those who say, 'Great idea, how do we do that?'"

Dan Whipple--a freelance writer specializing in science and environmental issues--lives in Broomfield, Colorado. His first novel, Click, will be published this year by the University Press of Colorado.