(Colorado News Connection) A new grant is expected to help close the deal to protect key parcels of historic ranchlands and wildlife habitat adjacent to Mesa Verde National Park, the San Juan Scenic Byway and San Juan National Forest.
James Reimann, conservation director for the Montezuma Land Conservancy, said in addition to keeping stunning views from being overtaken by strip malls and condos, the conservation easement will ensure 2,500 acres can remain productive agricultural land, a key economic driver in the region.
"That's something we are really cognizant of in Southwest Colorado," Reimann pointed out. "The loss of farmland, and the loss of that farming history, and those farming families. And the ability to maintain that land moving forward, and protecting it, is really important."
Reimann acknowledged the parcels are highly developable, and without protection would likely be targeted for subdivisions and commercial use. Development also puts the area at greater risk of wildfires.
The Keep it Colorado grants, made possible through funding from Great Outdoors Colorado, are meant to help landowners overcome steep costs involved with establishing a conservation easement, including comprehensive appraisals of land and mineral values.
Reimann noted the easement will also permanently protect lands beyond the national park's boundaries, which are rich with artifacts and cultural sites of the Ancestral Puebloan people.
"And we really want to ensure that those artifacts remain there and are protected," Reimann stated. "And, you know, don't obviously want a house or a structure built upon them or disturbed in any way."
Conservation will also protect critical habitat for elk, mule deer, black bear, wild turkey, mountain lions and the native plants they need to survive. Reimann added the property owners are especially proud to help preserve the spectacular viewshed experienced by some 600,000 visitors each year as they head into Mesa Verde.
"Really want to make sure that view of it remains open, unobstructed space," Reimann explained. "That really enhances that national park experience for future generations."