Long Lake land exchange deal meets fundraising goal in 2019

Closing slated for January and then focus turns to stewardship

By Mark Reaman

One of the largest, most innovative and most far-reaching open space transactions in the valley received its last $150,000 commitment earlier this month to put it over the top and guarantee its completion. After a year and a half of fundraising by the Crested Butte Land Trust (CBLT), the Long Lake land exchange has raised the needed $3.3 million to finalize the swap that will not only protect open space, but will help finance affordable housing projects in the county and develop a stewardship plan for the land. The deal will officially close in January 2020.

“Getting that final donation feels really great,” said Crested Butte Land Trust executive director Noel Durant. “It has been very empowering for the Land Trust to see the community stand up for this project. It really strikes a chord for us. It is super exciting to see this complicated project come to a close.”

Logistics for the complicated deal began in 2017 with the public launch of the fundraising campaign starting in July 2018. Long Lake sits adjacent to more than a thousand acres of land conserved by the Crested Butte Land Trust. The 120 acres of national forest on Long Lake was prioritized for disposal due to its small size and isolated location, surrounded by private land. The Land Trust, along with the Forest Service and the Trust for Public Land, assembled a transaction whereby the Land Trust would take ownership the Long Lake property in exchange for private forest inholdings of equivalent value.

The entire deal involves the Land Trust, the U.S. Forest Service, the Trust for Public Land, and the Valley Housing Fund. Basically, the Land Trust is purchasing 613 acres  in Fossil Ridge from the Trust for Public Land (TPL) for the exchange and contributing 15 acres on Copley Lake that it currently owns to the USFS. Both of these properties are surrounded by national forest. The USFS will transfer the 120 acres of property on the east side of Long Lake to the Land Trust. Given stipulations of the initial 2010 TPL Fossil Ridge deal with the original property owners, Butch and Judy Clark, the money from that purchase will then go toward helping affordable housing projects in the valley through the Valley Housing Fund.

Durant explained the $3.3 million includes not only the purchase price of the property but also helps fund a pool of money for stewardship of the property at Long Lake. The final $150,000 pledge came during a fundraising trip to Oklahoma City. Durant said longtime second homeowners Celina and Russ Harrison closed out the campaign in early December. “They have been coming here for many years and are very passionate about Crested Butte and the valley. They love it here,” said Durant. “Their philanthropic gift came at the right time and we are very appreciative of their donation.

“We are appreciative of all the donations,” Durant continued. “Whether it was $5, the $150,000 that Jeff Hermanson donated to kick off the campaign, the $150,000 the Harrisons donated to close the campaign or the $1 million grant from the town of Crested Butte, it all mattered and showed the commitment of the community to this project. From municipal partners like Mt. Crested Butte and Gunnison, to non-profit partners like 1% for Open Space, and Vail Resorts, and new funders such as the Freeport McMoRan Foundation and the Conservation Alliance, this project shows that everyone is engaged in this type of public project. It shows the people’s passion for open space and the community with the added benefit of affordable housing being part of the project. It demonstrates that the people here donated at all levels because they have a personal and positive stake in this place for this type of project.”

Durant said the Land Trust had also received what he termed creative contributions to help bridge the financing gap. Two major “impact investors” stepped up to help bridge the multi-year financial commitments people had pledged. This will allow them to come to the closing with the money needed to complete the sale.

Valley Housing Fund board president Jim Starr congratulated the Land Trust in completing the deal and is excited about the future. “The real beauty of this highly collaborative effort is that it benefits the public by serving the goals of three public and non-profit organizations,” he said. “The Valley Housing Fund will receive over $2.5 million by exchanging land it currently controls to the United States Forest Service, who will now provide public access to a former in-holding in the Forest, and the land trust will acquire the right to own and manage Long Lake, a historic community recreational amenity. The proceeds received by the Valley Housing Fund will be used to assist governmental and private entities in creating critically needed affordable housing within the county.”

“A federal land exchange project is not something you do overnight,” said Durant. “It has been a learning process for us at the Land Trust. This is one of the biggest deals ever for the Land Trust and it is great it comes with added benefits beyond just open space and land protections.”

Gunnison National Forest Service District ranger Matt McCombs said the deal is phenomenal and not that normal in other places outside the valley. “I continue to hold that this deal is one of the most innovative works of land conservation art I’ve been a part of,” he said. “Through this effort, the community, resource management and our shared commitment to a strong conservation ethic are all strengthened. I commend all the hard work, perseverance and generosity that got us to this point.”

Starr agreed. “I think it is very fitting that for this holiday season we have so clearly demonstrated how collaborative efforts can succeed in providing significant benefits for our communities,” he said. “Our hats are off to Noel Durant, and his staff and Board for this major success which will provide a recreational treasure and local housing for our communities for generations to come.”

The CBLT will take a breath and then dive into the stewardship and planning piece of the deal. New signage at the trailheads up Washington Gulch will go up in early spring. A master plan for things such as access, parking and maintenance will then be developed.

“We are so grateful to the entire community for the fantastic support for the project,” concluded Durant. “It really was a broad effort. There is always pressure to complete a capital campaign. But this style of campaign helps build a stronger local land trust. It shows the community we are capable of completing complex projects.”

While no specific date has been set for the closing, Durant said it would take place in January 2020.

Check Also

Kebler Pass Road a no-go for this weekend

Cottonwood, Gothic will open Friday By Katherine Nettles Despite its best efforts, Gunnison County Public Works …