Photo: Elk Mountain Ranch is located north of Parshall. Photo courtesy Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust
On November 4th, the Open Lands, Rivers and Trails Advisory Committee (OLRTAC) presented their recommendations for fall grant cycle funding to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). The Grand County Open Lands, Rivers and Trails is funded by an additional 0.3% sales tax that was passed by voters in 2016, implemented in 2017 and began distributing funds via bi-annual grant cycles in 2018. This is the fourth grant cycle for the program, which sunsets after 10 years.
OLRTAC Administrator, Anna Drexler-Dreis, presented an overview of the applications received and offered recommendations based on the committee’s rating system and the unanimous approval by committee members of each project submitted.
Open Lands and Rivers
As of August 31, 2019, there was $1,888,404.91 in available funds for the Open Lands and Rivers component of the fund. The OLRTAC received two applications for conservation easements and recommended approval of both and funding of $1,130,000.
Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust
Project Name: Conservation Easement on the Elk Mountain Ranch
Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust is requesting $580,000, which is 48% of the total project budget (not including in-kind) for the Elk Mountain Ranch conservation easement.
The 637-acre Elk Mountain Ranch conservation easement will permanently protect nearly a square mile of important wildlife habitat, 0.64 miles of Corral Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River, and 1.29 miles of the Musgrave Ditch which irrigates approximately 90 acres on the Property and is relied on by wildlife and agricultural producers throughout the area. This project will assist the landowner, Alicia Ninesling, a recently retired West Grand Elementary teacher of nearly 30 years, in her attempt to keep the property within her family. The Property is leased for summer pasture, directly contributing to the local agricultural economy. The terms of the conservation easement have been discussed extensively between the landowners and CCALT.
Generally, reserved rights are expected to include three building envelopes totaling 11 acres (1.7% of the conserved property). All water and mineral rights owned by the landowner will be perpetually tied to the land by the conservation easement.
CCALT has negotiated a bargain sale price with the landowners of $550,000. The remaining appraised easement value will be donated. Transaction costs associated with this project are estimated at $95,000. $30,000 in transaction cost assistance has been requested as a part of this application.
With an average score of 92.6/100, OLRTAC recommended $580,000 to be allocated to this project with the requirement that the funding will not exceed the appraised value of the conservation easement. Reasoning: Meets the OLRT criteria, strong leveraging of other funds as grant ask is only 48% of the total project budget, many partnerships indicating their support of the conservation easement, supportive landowner, important land for wildlife connectivity and habitat, important ecological corridor, and a positive landowner experience this time may encourage other landowners in the area to protect their land.
Colorado Headwaters Land Trust (CHLT)
Project Name: Himebaugh Creek Conservation Easement
Colorado Headwaters Land Trust is requesting $550,000, which is 81% of the total project budget (not including in-kind) for Himebaugh Creek conservation easement.
CHLT is requesting funding to complete a purchased-conservation easement to be held in perpetuity encumbering 270 acres south of Hot Sulphur Springs. With the potential easement in mind, the landowner has removed the property from the market. While the owners value conservation, they are in need of financial support and have also considered developing the property. This property is under threat of development, with that threat only increasing as population centers in Grand County continue to grow. The property provides wildlife habitat, scenic open space, and a buffer between Arapaho National Forest and Hot Sulphur Springs. No final terms of the conservation easement have been negotiated with the landowner as of the time of this application. Both water rights and mineral rights are held by the property owner. A title commitment will be completed as part of CHLT’s due diligence; although the deed negotiations have not yet occurred, it is CHLT’s intent to have the remaining rights encumbered by the conservation easement.
With an average score of 81.1/100, OLRTAC recommended $550,000 to be allocated to this project with the following requirements: (1) OLRT funding shall not exceed 90% of the appraised value of the conservation easement or $550,000; whichever is less, (2) Water and mineral rights will be encumbered by the conservation easement, and (3) The building envelope will be consistent with CHLT standards. Reasoning: Meets the OLRT criteria, important land for wildlife connectivity and habitat, important ecological corridor, and critical open space for the Town of Hot Sulphur Springs.
The two applications were the first conservation easement requests the OLRTAC had received. “This is a monumental day to have these requests before the board,” said county manager Kate McIntire.
OLRTAC Chair Paul Bruchez added, “We are hoping other funding organizations will look at our activity and get excited for greater collaboration with the county going forward.”
Funding for trails maintenance is limited to 15% of the total fund. The lesser balance has been drawn down in each of the grant cycles thus far. As of August 31, 2019, there was $139,230.69 available. Headwaters Trails Alliance (HTA) submitted a total of four applications for upcoming projects and the OLRTAC recommended approval of all four, funding a total of $131,738.
Project Name: Fraser Valley Trail Smart Sizing (TSS) Phase: 2020-2021
HTA is requesting $60,000, which is 7% of the total project budget (not including in-kind) for the entire TSS project and 15% of the two-year total.
HTA is assisting the Sulphur Ranger District of the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest with fiscal agency and implementation of the recently approved “Trail Smart Sizing” (TSS) Project. The TSS project developed out of the first subarea plan of the Grand County Master Trails Plan (2015). This project is designed to mitigate ecological damage due to historic poor trail development (i.e. trenching, erosion, sedimentation into creeks, wildlife habitat fragmentation, etc.) and improve the overall recreational experience for trail users in the Winter Park and Fraser area. It includes up to 18 miles of new trail construction, trail reroutes, maintenance, bridges, restoration (Phase I), and enhancements at trailheads (Phase II). Project implementation began in 2017 and will cost an estimated $1.5 million. This specific request covers a two-year span of work from 2020-2021 and includes a bridge construction project, reroutes, sustainability improvements and decommissioning.
The Scope of Work includes several trail projects for Phase I 2020-2021: Vasquez Creek Bridge (2020), Upper IkoTrail (2020), Pinball Ridge Trail (2021), FSR 891.2 Road to Trail (2020), East Elk Creek Loop (2020), Upper Chickadee Trail (2021), and social trail decommissioning.
With an average score of 92.9/100, OLRTAC recommended $60,000 to be allocated to this project with the requirement that a noxious weed management program be in place. Reasoning: The ask is small compared to the total project cost, the project reduces future maintenance costs, eliminates social trails, and trail users in Grand County are providing positive feedback about the project as a whole.
Project Name: National Public Lands Day 2020
HTA is requesting $5,500, which is 27% of the total project budget (not including in-kind) for National Public Lands Day 2020.
Funding assistance is requested for trail maintenance for Grand County’s National Public Lands Day (NPLD) 2020, our 26th anniversary. This specific request will help HTA and the federal agencies with materials/supplies and labor costs associated with the planning of and implementation of projects on NPLD.
With an average score of 91.8/100, OLRTAC recommended $5,500 to be allocated to this project with the requirements that (1) OLRT funding be acknowledged on the volunteer t-shirts, and (2) HTA take a stronger leadership role in local outreach to encourage more local volunteers in order to reduce the burden on volunteers that organize NPLD.
Project Name: Countywide Adopt-A-Trail Program
HTA is requesting $12,850, which is 43% of the total project budget (not including in-kind) for the Countywide Adopt-A-Trail Program.
The Adopt-A-Trail (AAT) program is an extension of HTA’s trail maintenance program in which land managers allow HTA to leverage resources to assist with several million dollars of deferred maintenance on Grand County’s trail systems. By utilizing volunteers to help “oversee” the trails and perform labor during scheduled project days on specific trails throughout the field season. HTA can accomplish more trail maintenance work and promote stewardship of our public lands.
In 2019, HTA was able to complete 38 projects (almost double the normal season) with the additional funding provided through the OLRT fund.
With an average score of 89.4/100, OLRTAC recommended $12,850 to be allocated to this project. Reasoning: This program provides trail users with ownership of the trails they frequent, and it is an efficient way for HTA to conduct needed trail maintenance.
Project Name: Thomasson Trail
HTA is requesting $53,388, which is 67% of the total project budget (not including in-kind) for Phase I of the Thomasson Trail project and 35% of the total project cost.
HTA is assisting the Town of Grand Lake with much-needed trail improvements to the popular Thomasson Trail. This project is designed to mitigate public safety issues and ecological damage due to the trail’s current alignment. The Thomasson Trail maintenance work includes: drainage mitigation including the installation of culverts and construction of rolling grade dips, bridge improvement projects, vegetation and noxious weed management, signage program, trail tread resurfacing and rerouting of approximately 1,000 feet of trail to higher ground. Phase I includes field work to improve the trail’s drainage and tread and removal of a significant public safety hazard in the bridge crossing near the Gateway Inn, preferably completed before this winter. Phase II includes new signage installation, removing residual asphalt from the trail surface, and potential widening of the “Doc Warren” bridge paralleling Grand Avenue from 8 feet to 14 feet to accommodate winter trail grooming by a snowcat.
With an average score of 80.5/100, OLRTAC recommended $53,388 to be allocated to this project with the requirement that HTA explore other funding sources for Phase II. Reasoning: Upgrades to the bridge may increase Nordic skiing use during the winter and in the summer the Thomasson Trail is the only trail from Grand Lake where people can bike, horseback ride, and walk their dogs.
Commissioner Chair Rich Cimino asked how the committee follows up on completed trail projects. Drexler-Dreis explained that each recipient submits a Grant Report outlining how the money was used and she then personally takes a bike ride out to inspect each of the trails. “I ground truth it and I can tell you that the trails look great,” she said.
Commissioner Merrit Linke motioned to approve the OLRTAC’s recommendations for funding in the fall 2019 grant cycle, and Cimino seconded. Commissioner Kris Manguso was absent and the motion passed 2:0.
The approval leaves an Open Lands and Rivers fund balance of $758,404.91 and $7,492.69 for Trails, as of August 31, 2019.
Chairman Cimino expressed concern that the funds for the Open Lands and Rivers fund had diminished by over $1 million in this round of grants.
Drexler-Dreis told the commissioners about $130K is deposited into the Open Lands and Rivers fund each month, and with 4 months left in the year, that meant another $520K by the end of the year.
OLRTAC Vice Chair, Mike Crosby, told the commissioners of a ranch close to Elk Mountain that divided up 35 acre parcels and listed them as public access. “These little pieces have a devastating effect on wildlife.”
Commissioner Linke said, “I think this is exactly what the people voted for. It is important to recognize the value, how it helps protect landscape, wildlife and the whole corridor. They’re very legitimate and valuable projects.”
In the four Open Lands, Rivers and Trails grant cycles thus far, the Open Lands and Rivers fund has awarded a total of $2,209,850, and Trails has awarded $502,210. The next round of grants begins in spring 2020.
February 3: Applications posted
March 13: Applications due
September 21: Applications posted
October 23: Applications due
To learn more about the Open Lands, Rivers and Trails fund, visit co.grand.co.us.