112 Acres in Ophir Valley Protected (CO)

DENVER, CO 5/5/2008: The Colorado office of The Trust for Public Land (TPL) today announced that it has completed a transaction to successfully protect 111.5 acres of spectacular mountain environment in the Ophir Valley, near Telluride, Colorado. The acquisition is the first in a series of anticipated acquisitions that will preserve more than 1,200 acres in the area. TPL will convey the property, which consists of numerous mining claims, to the United States Forest Service for management as public conservation and recreation lands.

“We could not have completed this transaction without the help of Colorado’s U.S. Senators Wayne Allard and Ken Salazar, and U.S. Representative John Salazar, who were instrumental in securing federal funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to protect this property,” said TPL Project Manager Hillary Merritt. “We are exceedingly grateful that they understand the value of this land for the town and recreational enthusiasts, and the ongoing need for additional funding to protect this beautiful valley.”

“The breathtaking beauty of the Ophir Valley draws many outdoor enthusiasts and we must continue to ensure access to this majestic area,” said Senator Allard, ranking member on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. “After all, public lands exist to provide enjoyment for the public and we must take the stewardship of these treasures seriously. It has been a pleasure to work with The Trust for Public Land and the many locally elected officials who support this project.”

“The Ophir Valley is one of Colorado’s crown jewels and one of our nation’s most pristine open spaces,” said Senator Salazar. “I am pleased to have supported the collaboration between the Trust for Public Land and the local leaders and stakeholders who worked together to preserve such spectacular public land, conserving it for generations to come. I will continue to work in Congress to keep this project and other projects that preserve Colorado’s most treasured places moving forward.”

“I am proud to be a part of the effort to help preserve an area as spectacular as the Ophir Valley,” said Congressman Salazar. “I am very pleased that all the stakeholders working together were able to secure the funding to get the first phase of this project completed. This acquisition will go a long way toward ensuring that valuable open space and wildlife habitat in the Ophir Valley is preserved for future generations. I am working to secure additional funding for the Ophir project this year in the Congress to keep this project moving forward.”

The transaction and the anticipated transactions to follow are intended to protect the Ophir Valley from “backcountry sprawl” — the development of cabins and second homes that can damage the wildlife, water, recreational, and scenic values of Colorado’s wildlands. Working cooperatively with landowners and the local land trust, the San Miguel Conservation Foundation, and with broad regional support of both local government and the Forest Service, and the Town of Ophir, TPL has assisted with the purchase and transfer to public ownership of nearly all of the patented mining claims surrounding the townsite. Preservation of the full 1,200 acres of scenic, rugged terrain comprising the over 100 claims owned by the Pauls family would culminate a 10-year open space preservation effort by all of these partners in an area of Colorado often known as “little Switzerland.”

The Ophir Valley Program is an outgrowth of the Red Mountain Project, where TPL preserved over 9,000 acres of high-country mining claims in the geographic triangle formed by the towns of Ouray, Silverton, and Telluride. TPL is continuing this effort by pursuing protection of lands adjacent to the San Juan Skyway-a 234-mile national scenic byway that connects these towns.

TPL’s land protection efforts in the Ophir Valley have strong public, Congressional and agency support. Preservation of the remaining acreage will occur in subsequent phases. Using $850,000 made available through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the Phase I claims were selected as the top priority by the town, the Forest Service and TPL because of their development potential and high natural resource value. An additional $1 million was appropriated by Congress in FY2008 to continue this conservation project.

“With this first 112-acre acquisition, we are pleased to expand our conservation and management of the Ophir Valley landscape,” saidCharlie Richmond, Forest Supervisor of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests. “I am pleased to work closely with the Town ofOphir and the Trust for Public Land to ensure these lands do not become developed.”

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since its founding in 1972, TPL’s has helped protect more than 2 million acres of land in 45 states. TPL depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations and businesses to achieve our land for people mission.