Conservationists get mountain bid

— The members of the Emerald Mountain Partnership heard the news they had been waiting for in Denver Friday when the state Board of Land commissioners voted to accept the partnership's bid to spend the next four years searching for ways to conserve the 6,400 acres that lie just to the southwest of the city of Steamboat Springs.
Partnership board member Ben Beall said the acceptance of the bid amounts to the land board granting an option to purchase the Emerald Mountain tract.
"This means the Emerald Mountain parcel will remain intact for the next four years," Beall said from outside the hearing room in Denver. "What remains is this is a big challenge for the community to address the appraised value of the land."
The 6,400 acres, which are part of a statewide network of State Trust Lands, were appraised two years ago at $17 million.
Beall said the task ahead of the partnership is to explore ways to transfer comparable value to the state Land Board in order to conserve all or part of the land.
Emerald Mountain dominates views to the south and southwest from the valley floor within Steamboat Springs. From U.S. 40, it's apparent there are large, mostly untouched forests of oak, aspen and conifer trees on its slopes.
But it isn't until one walks it, or views it from horseback, that one can appreciate its hidden ravines and meadows.
Land Board Executive Director Charles Bedford praised the partnership for getting to this point.
"It's a remarkable success story and it shows how a local community can achieve its own vision," Bedford said.
Beverly Rave of the state Land Board office in Craig said she recommended that the commissioners accept the bid from the partnership.
The bid by the local group was the only one being considered for Emerald Mountain by the commissioners, Rave said.
However, the commissioners also had the option of declining the bid if they chose, she said.
Friday's decision to accept the bid formalized a memorandum of agreement signed by the two entities in August.
Beall was joined in Denver by fellow board member Dan Smilkstein, along with advisory committee member Jim Stanko.
Beall said the partnership has already decided to spend the first year of the four-year option seeking a way to conserve the entirety of the Emerald Mountain parcel without considering any proposals for partial development of the property.
Previously, partnership members had said they would probably have to sell development rights to some portion of the land, maybe just one gentleman rancher, to pull off the purchase. Now, they want to at least take a crack at preserving the entire parcel.
"After one year, we'll re-evaluate," Beall said.
The partnership is likely to seek grants to help raise a portion of the $17 million, but that could mean the final appraised price would change.
That's because most granting agencies require an appraisal that is no more than six months old.
The appraisal of $17 million is now two years old.
Rave confirmed that the memo of agreement provides the opportunity to seek new appraisals for all or portions of the 6,000 acres in order to facilitate the grant process.
Ken Brenner, a member of the partnership board, said although the Emerald Mountain saga has unfolded over a period of years, this is a significant event in the effort to conserve the mountaintop that dominates views from all over the city.
"It's extremely important." Brenner said. "It means we will successfully be allowed to represent the property owned by the state Land Board, as far as its final disposition, for a period of four years."

To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail tomross@amigo.net

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