In Colorado, a Fair Trade for Conservation

April 16, 2012

Sometimes, conservation means getting creative. Such was the case in Colorado, where The Trust for Public Land helped facilitate a unique land exchange between the Town of Breckenridge and the U.S. Forest Service.

The issue boiled down to this: the Forest Service owned land that Breckenridge needed to expand their town trail system and provide affordable housing. But the agency is only allowed to trade land, not sell it—and Breckenridge didn't have any land to trade.

But we did. The Trust for Public Land happened to be holding two pristine backcountry properties that Forest Service planners had their eye on. Realizing that a land exchange would be the best way to conserve land for people in Colorado, we stepped in to help.

Trading Spaces

Drawing on decades of expertise in complex conservation transactions, we enabled Breckenridge to exchange our Flattop Mountain and Mitchell Lakes properties for the land owned by the U.S. Forest Service.

The people of Breckenridge now own the scenic backdrop to their idyllic mountain town, including numerous public trails and the wildlife habitat and wetlands of the Cucumber Gulch Preserve. The town can also build a limited number of homes for residents who’ve had trouble finding affordable housing in pricey Summit County.

In exchange, the Forest Service received the deed to two pristine, high-elevation wilderness areas rich with conifer forests and native grass meadows. Protecting these natural lands will provide habitat for wildlife, safeguard drinking water for local communities, and provide the public with hiking, camping, hunting, horseback riding, and sightseeing opportunities.

“What's cool about this land exchange is that these pristine backcountry lands are now protected from development and available for public use,” says Justin Spring, project manager with The Trust for Public Land. “And Breckenridge can expand their trails and nature preserve while ensuring that people have places to live that won't degrade the mountain.”

When these lands exchanged hands, everyone came out on top—the Town of Breckenridge, the Forest Service and, most importantly, the people who live, work, and play in the Colorado Rockies.