Looking for Support
SUMMIT COUNTY – Leigh Girvin hopes the Continental Divide Land Trust’s (CDLT) new membership drive will help not only to raise money for the nonprofit organization, but also to increase awareness as well.
It’s difficult to raise money for a cause when most people don’t know it exists, she said.
Though the group formed almost 10 years ago, CDLT executive director Girvin said she doesn’t believe many people in Summit County have heard of the organization. And if they have, she said, most don’t understand its role.
The CDLT was founded by John Farr in the early 1990s, Girvin said. At the time, several counties in the area did not have a land trust – Summit, Grand and Park counties included. So Farr formed the CDLT with the goal of providing people in these areas a way to preserve land.
Most municipalities in Summit County are good about preserving land for open space, Girvin said. But designating land as open space doesn’t mean it won’t someday be developed. Though it has not happened in Summit County, she said, other counties have developed what was once open space.
On the contrary, a land trust offers the highest level of land protection, she said. “Conservation is granted in perpetuity, which really means forever.”
The CDLT ensures not only that some government-owned open space lands remain such, but also that privately owned lands are preserved for various purposes such as scenic views, wildlife habitat, natural lands, historic buildings and public recreation.
“Land trust provides us an opportunity to contribute through our heart, through the love of our community and our love of the natural beauty that surrounds us,” Girvin said. “We want to do as much as we can to protect that.”
Private property owners can donate land through conservation easements. That doesn’t mean they give up their rights to the property – it is still theirs. They might give up some of those rights, however, to ensure the land is protected, Girvin said.
“When you grant a conservation easement, you are granting certain property rights related to conservation,” she said.
For example, a family has a 1,000-acre ranch they wish to protect for both the land as well as the elk habitat located there. By donating the land as a conservation easement, they likely would give up the right to develop or subdivide as a part of its protection.
The difference between the land if it were subdivided and developed and if it were left as a conservation easement equals the tax-deductible donation.
While studies show the most common reason people donate their property to land trusts is a desire to see the land protected, Girvin said, the next most common reason is for the tax benefits.
Donating private property doesn’t mean the public now has access to one’s land, she added.
The Giberson family in Frisco donated 174 acres above Interstate 70 for its scenic beauty and elk habitat.
Though their property remains private and public access is not allowed, the public still benefits from the donation, Girvin said. In addition to the critical elk habitat it preserves, the land can be seen from the I-70, Swan Mountain, Frisco and other parts of the county.
And the conservation easement ensures that the land will remain undeveloped and scenic, she said. Otherwise, “we might look up to a row of houses.”
Even if the land is sold, it must remain under the conservation easement, Girvin said.
Part of the CDLT’s responsibilities is stewardship of the conservation easements.
CDLT officials visit each easement annually to make sure the agreement is being met and the land preserved. Visits often include trash pickup and weed-pulling, in addition to surveying and photographing the land.
Thus far, the nonprofit’s operations have been funded by private donations only. The stewardship endowment fund provides the money for its stewardship role. But, as the market declines, so does the amount available for the CDLT’s stewardship expenses, Girvin said.
As part of donating a conservation easement, donors are asked to make a cash contribution to the stewardship fund.
Girvin said she hopes the community will rally to support the CDLT during its membership drive and that the drive will raise awareness of the nonprofit’s role in Summit County and the preservation of land loved by many.
“We take a huge responsibility when we take on a conservation easement,” she said. “We are helping preserve conservation values forever, so we have to be around – we have to be viable – to do that.”
Lu Snyder can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or firstname.lastname@example.org
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