Aspen-based conservationist Reid Haughey keeps expanding the wild, wild West | SummitDaily.com

Aspen-based conservationist Reid Haughey keeps expanding the wild, wild West

Scott Condon
scondon@aspentimes.com

How's this for a job description: hike some of the most breathtakingly beautiful lands in the West, scope out isolated pockets of private property to buy and then sell them to the federal government to enhance wilderness areas.

Reid Haughey of Snowmass Village has been helping make some of the greatest places in the western U.S. even better for 14 years as president of the Wilderness Land Trust. The nonprofit organization has completed 439 transactions that have added 48,289 acres to 100 wilderness areas in nine states, both during and prior to Haughey's tenure. Former Aspenite Jon Mulford founded Wilderness Land Trust in 1992. Mulford and some members of the trust's board of directors recruited Haughey as the organization's second leader.

While Haughey's job does allow him to hike extensively, it's also hard work that requires a lot of patience. The landowners decide if and when to sell. Haughey and his staff of four have to negotiate terms that make financial sense.

The average deal requires 6.8 years from first contact to an acquisition. It takes another 2.8 years on average to consummate a sale to the federal government.

Secured West Maroon Trailhead

Pockets of private land surrounded by designated wilderness as well as lands on the edge of wilderness are the "bull's-eye" for Wilderness Land Trust.

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Sometimes, small purchases in terms of acreage and dollars can be a huge contribution to a wilderness area or gateway to wilderness.

For example, the trailhead to the immensely popular West Maroon Trail on the Crested Butte side went up for sale a few years ago. It caught the U.S. Forest Service off guard when the privately owned mining claim went on the market. Wilderness Land Trust was able to work out the deal and preserve the trailhead at the edge of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

"We pride ourselves on tenacity and getting work done because of its contribution to the wilderness," Haughey said.

Impressive conservation effort

Heading the trust is fulfilling to Haughey on a couple levels.

"I have a personal passion for wilderness. It's really important to me," he said.

And he has a passion for helping organizations grow. While the Roaring Fork Valley has a stellar cast of characters who have contributed mightily to land conservation, Haughey has quietly amassed an impressive list of accomplishments in the Aspen area over nearly three decades. As the Pitkin County manager, he helped with the formation of the Open Space and Trails program, a leading government program in land conservation. He also helped craft the Rural and Remote zoning that's preserved the county's backcountry.

After he stepped down as county manager in the 1990s, he was hired as a contractor to help with the purchase of the Denver and Rio Grande corridor, which now accommodates the popular 40-mile trail between Aspen and Glenwood Springs.

Haughey became executive director of Aspen Valley Land Trust in 1998 and helped build it into the largest land trust in Colorado. When he was handpicked for the Wilderness Land Trust job, he shifted his focus from the Roaring Fork Valley to the entire West.

Working to preserve open spaces for the past two decades has been soothing for the soul.

"My kids are proud of me because I don't put anything in the landfill," Haughey said, referring to his two adult daughters.

Preparing for next journey

The position also has introduced him to areas he otherwise would have never seen.

"When I started this, I had some really lazy Colorado eyes," he said.

But many of the transactions have taken him to the deserts of the West and the sage habitat somewhere between mountain terrain and desert. It's gotten to the point where he feels claustrophobic when there are too many trees, he said.

Haughey's journey is coming to an end, or at least this latest journey. He plans to step down sometime in 2017. He and his wife, Mary Fox, will still explore the West in their newly acquired used VW van.

Haughey said it's easy to rattle off properties he is proud to have acquired and helped convert to wilderness, but it's really the people he met that made the job fulfilling, both landowners and dedicated conservationists.

He's proud that Wilderness Land Trust accomplishes its goals without inflating the value of inholdings of private property, and he's proud of getting the land in the hands of public land management agencies.

"We've never failed to transfer a property to the federal government," he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

WILDERNESS TALLIES

Wilderness Land Trust has acquired 29 properties in Pitkin County and transferred the land to the Forest Service. The efforts have added 27 parcels to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, one to the Hunter-Frying Pan Wilderness and one at the Ashcroft town site. Other transactions have been undertaken all over the West. Here are some transactions that stand out for Haughey during his 14 years at the helm.

•The town of Central City placed Little Echo Lake on the market to raise funds to cover its budget shortfall. The 100-acre property “controls” the east side of the James Peak Wilderness via Monument Gulch. A sale to a private party would have risked closing of a trail that process access to the Continental Divide Trail. Wilderness Land Trust bought the property, sold it to the Forest Service and secured public access.

•The owner of two gold mines in California wanted to sell one mine to finance operations at the other. The access road to the mine was a popular trail where Haughey saw everyone from a Boy Scout Troop to a group of nuns in their habits hiking. Wilderness Land Trust learned how to value, buy and sell a gold mine and preserved the 277-acre site.

•In 2011, Haughey and his staff faced a dilemma of how to acquire 2,450 acres near Death Valley. For tax reasons, it was beneficial for the owner to sell the company that held the land among its assets. The trust acquired the Avawatz Salt and Gypsum Co. in one of its more unusual deals.

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