Emma Open Space Preserved (CO)

BASALT, Colo. Today local conservationists celebrated the acquisition and permanent protection of a significant parcel of Mid-Valley open space adjacent to the historic Emma township. The Roaring Fork Conservancy, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, the Trust for Public Land and the Town of Basalt, partnering together, purchased the 74-acre Emma Open Space property to preserve wildlife habitat and scenic valley floor, retain active agricultural land, and enhance recreational opportunities along the Roaring Fork River. The Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund, which is funded through State lottery proceeds, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, and Eagle County also contributed significant financial resources to the project, which is dedicated in the memory of Leonard Moorhead Thomas.

The Emma Open Space connects two public lands, a land bridge that represents a critical Mid-Valley wildlife migration corridor between the Bureau of Land Management’s Light Hill property and the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s Christine State Wildlife Area. It includes 58 acres that will remain in agricultural production on the valley floor southeast of the Old Emma Schoolhouse. The remaining 16 acres encompass wetlands and river corridor between Highway 82 and Two Rivers Road.

The Roaring Fork Conservancy initiated the conservation effort in 1998, seeking to protect the rich wetlands and wildlife migration corridor spanned by the project area. Mule deer and elk use this portion of the valley floor to reach the Roaring Fork River and migrate to and from critical wintering areas found on both adjacent public lands. The wetlands and riparian vegetation host an array of wildlife species, ranging from beaver to nesting songbirds that migrate from the tropics, to wintering bald eagles. Said Jeanne Beaudry, Executive Director of the Conservancy, “This project represents one of the most biologically significant areas in the valley. We are proud to be involved in preserving such a special place.”

The Conservancy requested the assistance of the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national land conservation organization, in leading the negotiations for the purchase of the land. “The Emma Open Space project has a little bit for everyone,” said Deb Frey, TPL Project Manager. “Fishing access along the Roaring Fork River, future farming and community gardening opportunities, the protection of a critical wildlife migration corridor, and even a productive wetland ecosystem. It’s a wonderful gift to the community.” Once the Trust for Public Land secured the option for purchase, the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails staff resolved the final details of the transaction.

Pitkin County Open Space and Trails acquired 65 acres in fee, with a conservation easement held by the Roaring Fork Conservancy. The two organizations will co-hold another conservation easement over 9 acres of the property. The County’s Open Space and Trails program $1,000,000 contribution was key to securing the remaining $475,000 from the project’s other funders. “This property contains and combines all of the important qualities we look for in open space: beautiful pastoral landscape, well kept irrigated pastures, preserving agricultural practices, a wildlife corridor connecting Light Hill and Lake Christine State Wildlife Area, valuable wetlands and riparian ecosystems and the river bottom; and allows a continuation of the Basalt to Old Snowmass trail; adding yet another link to the planned valley-long trail,” remarked Tom Cardamone, Open Space Board member and Director of Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES).

Great Outdoors Colorado provided a matching grant of $400,000; the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s Wetlands Initiative contributed a $55,000 donation; and Eagle County gave $20,000. In addition, the Town of Basalt made an important contribution of a two-acre land match on the eastern side of the Project area. “The challenge,” noted Kristine Crandall of the Conservancy, “has been to find the right package of support, technical expertise, and funding to fit the project. It has been a real team effort – with each player having an important role.”

“This purchase represents the good that can happen when multiple jurisdictions with similar goals work together to protect wildlife, wildlife habitat, open space, and recreational opportunities. Stewardship of the few remaining wild places in our valleys must remain a focus for us all, or the values we cherish will be lost.” Dorothea Farris, Pitkin County Commissioner, RFRHA Board.

The property is traversed by two important links in the Pitkin County Trail system. Construction of the long anticipated trail along the former Denver & Rio Grande Right of Way is now underway. The link from Emma to the Basalt High School, which traverses the property is slated to open in late August. In addition, the existing Old Emma Road trail crosses the project area. Protection of the Emma Open Space dramatically enhances the scenic quality of the Pitkin County trail system.

One of the first initiatives planned for the Emma Open Space is the improvement of the wildlife underpass that goes underneath Highway 82, and establishment of wildlife viewing platforms and interpretive displays on a portion of the Town of Basalt’s property that overlooks the wetlands. The Colorado Department of Transportation has generously offered in-kind resources to help grade both sides of the underpass so deer and elk have a clear view through the structure. The Conservancy, Roaring Fork Volunteers, and Pitkin County Open Space have planned a volunteer day to be held October 7th to plant trees and shrubs in the underpass area and along the Highway to provide screening. The Town of Basalt, and the Colorado Division of Wildlife also are collaborating on the improvements.