Top stories of 2016: Summit County open space program celebrates 20 years (No. 10) | SummitDaily.com

Top stories of 2016: Summit County open space program celebrates 20 years (No. 10)

Editor's note: The Summit Daily is counting down the top 10 stories of 2016 over the next 10 days, starting today.

This year, Summit County's Open Space & Trails Department marked 20 years of protecting, preserving and managing properties throughout the community, and celebrated in a big way.

In October, the county announced the purchase of the 272-acre Doig Homestead in the Lower Blue at a cost of $2 million. It was the largest acquisition in the basin on the north end of the county in nearly a decade and required that Open Space & Trails dig into reserves to pull off.

The department operates on an annual budget of approximately $1.25 million in property taxes through a fund that's been consistently approved by voters. The last occurred in 2008 to run through 2022, with endorsement of the mill levy first coming in 1999.

"Each tax dollar spent to date to purchase open space has protected over $3 worth of property in Summit County," the Open Space & Trails website reads. "Our funds leverage contributions from property owners, the Colorado Lottery and other organizations."

Such was the case with the Doig estate as well. The prior asking price for the property owned by the Knorr family on the open market was $3.5 million. After sitting at that cost for five years, the asking price dropped by nearly half in August, and the county jumped at the chance to ensure the historic cattle grazing land remains undeveloped in perpetuity.

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As a result of the pretty penny it still took to procure the property located off Heeney Road along State Highway 9 north of Silverthorne, the county applied for and in December received $675,000 in retroactive Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant funding. The GOCO dollars are offered through lottery proceeds in part to help protect vibrant natural beauty and open spaces in the state.

"A lot of its iconic landscapes and vistas are really important to protect," County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said around the time of the purchase. "Summit County had mining going on in Breckenridge, but ranching was actually the bigger and more centralized activity and where development was, because it was a little more sustainable than mining.

"The fact that it was the working ranch dating back so many years makes it a good opportunity to highlight that history," she added.

Each year, in partnership with its citizen-appointed Open Space Advisory Council, the Open Space & Trails Department identifies important available properties and recommends the Board of County Commissioners secure them. In 2015, for example, the county spent more than $400,000 to buy up nearly 90 acres of land across 20 transactions. Totals for 2016 have not been released by the county, but should be released by the end of the year.

"It's not just the need to protect the environment, that habitat," County Commissioner Thomas Davidson told the Daily in March, "but also our ability to guide where development doesn't happen. They understand the importance of preserving the mountain character that we all call home."

If not used for public recreation, like access to popular existing trails, or purely as safekeeping as with Doig, purchased properties — usually abandoned mine claims — are also seen as assets for a possible future land trade with the U.S. Forest Service for sites preferable for development. As housing continues as one of the primary issues facing the county, this may increasingly become another arrow in the quiver for addressing the ongoing shortage.

"If there were a light and a home on every one of these mining sites, it'd be a different place," said Brian Lorch, director of the Summit County Open Space & Trails Department. "A lot of the wildlife values would be gone, you'd see a lot of homes and lights, and it wouldn't be the same thing that we've all come to love. It really is just kind of protecting the character of Summit County, the scenic backdrop."