Open space initiative offers hope

  • SAVING THE VIEW: Open space preserved by the LCOSI effort includes the banks of the Arkansas River, foreground for some of Colorado's tallest peaks

    Mike Conlin
  • Mike Conlin

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

LEADVILLE, Colo. - Cross-country skier Mike LeVine strides by the rusted ore car and other mining relics that decorate the Mineral Belt Trail.

LeVine moved to Leadville from Chicago five years ago, looking to retire in a mountain town that isn't a glitzy resort.

It's what some people here hope for - migrants and tourists coming to enjoy the mix of Old West and New West.

The Mineral Belt Trail opened two years ago, threading for 12.5 miles through town and the historic mining district. It's already gained a national reputation for quirky skiing, and bikers and hikers come in other seasons.

"We're trying to draw in dollars from outside the community. Mining did that. Tourism can do it," says Mike Conlin, an economic development consultant who's lived here for 30 years.

With mining busted out, for the last 10 years Conlin has worked on creating new attractions like the trail, but it isn't easy. The trail required cooperation from mining companies, the Environmental Protection Agency, the town, Lake County and many private landowners.

Now, Conlin is working on the county's first historic preservation plan, and a recreation master plan.His biggest project involves 25 organizations and several million dollars, and aims to open thousands of acres for public recreation. The effort - called LCOSI, for Lake County Open Space Initiative - "is a ray of hope," Conlin says. But, he adds, "right now we're struggling to keep it alive."

A showcase

LCOSI (pronounced Lo-cosi) got going in 1997, when ranches amounting to 11 percent of the private land in the county came up for sale all at once. It's the best land in the county, along the Arkansas River south of town, including wetlands, winter range for 600 elk, and habitat for 200 species of migrating birds. It's the beautiful foreground to Colorado's tallest peaks, and most of it had been off limits to the public for 120 years.

LCOSI emerged as a partnership. Conlin and key Lake County officials wanted to preserve the view and increase opportunities for recreation. The distant city of Aurora, a booming suburb of Denver that siphons off mountain water, saw the chance to buy more water. Agencies including the Bureau of Land Management and the Colorado Land Department - which owned parcels in a patchwork with the ranches - saw a chance to consolidate. The local branch of Colorado Mountain College wanted an outdoor classroom, and Colorado Outward Bound school, also based here, wanted a larger buffer of open space.

In a series of complicated deals, Outward Bound bought land, Aurora bought land and water, the BLM and the state bought land, Lake County bought land and optioned water, and so on.

The partnership is taking over about 9,000 acres, and another 5,000 acres are being managed with similar goals of recreation and ecosystem health.

Five miles of riverbanks have been opened to the public. There's a new 60-acre park, 14 ponds are open for fishing, and cattle grazing has been adjusted to help wildlife.

LCOSI is "a showcase project ... ecosystem management in action ... very refreshing to be part of," says Laura Coppock, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist.

Enough open space, already

But local politics have been in turmoil, and LCOSI became a target. Some people think there are more pressing needs, and that with more than 70 percent of the county already run as national forest or in other government hands, too much private land and water is being snatched up.

"They were not paying attention to basic services," like fixing roads and bridges, broken bathrooms in county parks, and problems at the local dump, says Ken Olsen, an accountant and lifelong local who was elected in November as a Lake County commissioner. "Their purpose is to obtain grants."

When Olsen takes office in January, he'll join another skeptic, commissioner Bill Hollenback, elected in 2000 and already a survivor of two attempts to recall him from office. They will form a 2-1 majority on the commission. "There's been enough done on open space," says Olsen. "We can't afford any more, long term."

"A lot of people locally still don't understand," Conlin says. "Partnerships are being built, and we're trying to create the tools to build a sustainable future - to compete with our surrounding communities for the recreation dollar."

He adds, "We're frantically working to complete our real-estate deals before (Olsen) takes office."

High Country News Classifieds
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Come work alongside everyday Montanans to project our clean air, water, and build thriving communities! Competitive salary, health insurance, pension, generous vacation time and sabbatical....
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES GENERALIST
    Honor the Earth is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate based on identity. Indigenous people, people of color, Two-Spirit or LGBTQA+ people,...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.