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Know the West

Water for people and fish

  Photographs of Aspen Village mobile homes and Snowmass Creek are not likely to oust images of the Maroon Bells Wilderness from Aspen, Colo., postcards and calendars. But the 150-unit trailer park and a small but valuable water right from Snowmass Creek have jumped into the conservation limelight. Their fame comes from an effort by citizens, environmental groups and municipalities to thwart development on 879 acres previously owned by Armand and Celeste Bartos.

At the Bartos' request, the Virginia-based Conservation Fund purchased the Aspen Village Inc. land at a discount in 1994. The fund then spearheaded a four-year project that culminated in the Jan. 12 transfer of a water right worth more than $1 million to the state's citizens. The Colorado Water Conservation Board will use the water, once slated for snowmaking at the Snowmass ski resort, to protect a fishery and maintain stream levels during seasonal lows and drought years.

"Most of the land will be preserved, and affordable housing, a rarity in the Roaring Fork Valley, has been established," said Conservation Fund vice president Sydney Macy. "The transfer of the water right is the final step toward fulfilling the Bartos' dreams." Their dreams included selling the trailer park to its occupants, preserving the land for wildlife, open space, ranching and farming, and doing "something creative" with the water.

The Conservation Fund is trying to sell 828 of the 879 acres for $3.9 million and then reinvest any profits in future conservation efforts. A conservation easement, which limits development to a single house "envelope," will be held by the Aspen Valley Land Trust.

A Colorado Water Court must still approve the water right transfer but "it is unlikely any major opposition will emerge," says Macy. Dan Merriman, chief investigator for the Water Conservation Board, is also optimistic: "This sets an important precedent for future water conservation projects." The Water Conservation Board is seeking parties interested in dedicating water rights for conservation. Contact the Water Conservation Board at 303/866-3441. - J. T. Thomas