Special land is a core motivation for involvement and investment in this place
by Mark Reaman
The initiative to raise more than $3 million to facilitate a major land exchange is about halfway to its goal. The Crested Butte Land Trust (CBLT) has raised about $1.65 million for the project, with another $1.65 million needed to finalize the deal, which would protect Long Lake up Washington Gulch while making a major contribution to local affordable housing.
CBLT executive director Noel Durant said the project’s timeline has the organization executing a contract with the U.S. Forest Service before the end of May. “Closing the exchange will come after that, depending on the USFS final review of the project, but we’re aiming to have the funds in hand before June 2019,” Durant said this week.
The complicated deal impacts recreation, ranching and even affordable housing. To ensure public access to the east side of Long Lake from Washington Gulch, the CBLT will exchange 613 acres on Fossil Ridge near Lost Canyon, currently owned by the Trust for Public Land (TPL), and a recently protected 15 acres at Copley Lake near Irwin. These properties, both surrounded by Forest Service land, will be added to the Gunnison National Forest in exchange for complete ownership of the 120 acres on the eastern shore of Long Lake.
The Fossil Ridge acreage was donated by longtime local residents Judy and Butch Clark. In 2010, the Clarks sold the property to the TPL, with a stipulation that if re-sold, the proceeds from the sale would go directly to the Gunnison Valley Housing Foundation (GVHF). The Clarks wanted to donate a significant piece of land in the Fossil Ridge area to the Housing Foundation. So with this land exchange deal, there is the opportunity to purchase the Fossil Ridge parcel and contribute more than $2.5 million to the GVHF to ensure the valley’s year-round residents and workforce have affordable places to live.
The town of Crested Butte earmarked $1 million for the project from its open space budget. The CBLT is looking at building on that major donation.
“A project as complex as the land exchange is a somewhat niche project when it comes to institutional funding,” explained Durant. “That being said, we’ve received $250,000 from the Gunnison Valley Land Preservation Fund, and have received a few key out-of-valley grants for this project, including a $40,000 grant from the Conservation Alliance, which was a nationally competitive grant. Locally, 1% for Open Space is supportive of the Long Lake project and looks forward to working with CBLT as the project progresses. Private foundations that work statewide are very interested in this project because of its intersection among open space protection, community development, and water planning. We have over $300,000 in the pipeline with state funders.”
The CBLT is counting on the multifaceted aspect of the deal along with the special connection people have with Long Lake to raise the needed funds. “We haven’t been resting on our laurels. We currently have $1 million-plus in funding opportunities in play,” Durant said. “We’ve taken Long Lake on the road and our project has hit the mark with donors. Many longstanding supporters of the Land Trust have stepped up as project supporters and fundraising volunteers. A project like Long Lake is seen as a critical project for our community, so we’re making great connections with many residents and visitors who enjoy Long Lake and see the need for affordable housing.”
Durant admits the complexity of the project is not always an attribute. “It’s my first federal land exchange, so there are a lot of moving parts in coordinating this project through the successive steps toward closing the exchange,” he explained. “I think the complexity of the transaction creates a communications challenge. This is the Land Trust’s largest private fundraising effort to date and our success with this project will chart a path toward major conservation opportunities on the horizon.
“But we’re adding 628 acres of some of Gunnison County’s most inspirational country for everyone to enjoy as new public land managed by the USFS,” Durant emphasized. “We’re protecting 120 acres on the shores of Long Lake to ensure our community will have access to enjoy this gem located so close to town. That will result in a local and responsive land manager for the lake area and we’re already planning on key investments needed to limit the impact of recreation on this place, which include a ranching family. This project will also generate more than $2.5 million for the GVHF to be used as leverage for public-private affordable housing partnerships across the Gunnison Valley. Think something like Anthracite Place.”
Durant said, while the project is complex, the locals, visitors and second homeowners in the valley have an instinctual recognition of the importance of such projects. “In just about every conversation we’ve had with residents and visitors to Crested Butte, the land is the core motivation for their involvement and investment in this place,” he said. “It’s where this community starts—our scenic views, recreational access, wild character, and agricultural heritage shape who we are. We get one shot at protecting Long Lake for our community’s future, but I’m certain the next generation of Crested Butte residents and visitors will thank us for making the sacrifice today to ensure everyone can enjoy one of Crested Butte’s most beloved places.”
To contribute to the project, go to the CBLT website at cblandtrust.org/give.