Opinion: Forever means forever. Colorado’s iconic landscapes require “perpetual conservation easements” protection

By Melissa Daruna

There has been a lot of talk in the local news lately about perpetual conservation easements. What is this tool, and why should people care?

A perpetual conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government entity to protect land — and its associated natural resources — forever.

The core goal is permanent protection. We need this tool to permanently protect Colorado’s iconic landscapes. It’s therefore critical that we protect the tool.

Since 1965, nonprofit land trusts and their partners have helped Colorado landowners conserve more than three million acres of working lands, wildlife habitat and open spaces that define our state and contribute to our quality of life.

This work is voluntary, collaborative, nonpartisan and local. More than 30 nonprofit land trusts are responsible for the stewardship of nearly 80% of the 2.2 million acres of private land conserved in this state — and they rely on perpetual conservation easements to ensure this activity continues.

To use an example of one well-known area that is permanently protected, let’s look at Greenland Ranch.



Greenland Ranch is an undeniably gorgeous eight-mile span of rolling hills, rugged overlooks and sweeping vistas that drivers see as they travel along I-25 between Denver and Colorado Springs.

Sitting on 21,000 acres, it is the oldest-operating cattle ranch on the Front Range. It’s hard to imagine that drive without the open space that, for so many, is iconic of Colorado and everything our state represents — and that draws people here in the first place.

And yet, given all of the growth in Colorado in recent years, it’s also easy to imagine how that view would change if dotted with subdivisions, strip malls and big-box stores. Such development would create a radically different look and feel for our Colorado.

Fortunately, that second scenario will never take place on Greenland Ranch. Urban sprawl will never define that land, thanks to a conservation easement that permanently protects it — and the commitment of land conservation partners and the landowner who shared a vision to keep the area in its natural state.

The list of properties around the state that Coloradans enjoy and that are protected by perpetual conservation easements is long — from peach orchards in Palisade, to Fisher’s Peak in Trinidad, to a mining claim now protected as open space in San Juan National Forest’s Weminuche Wilderness, to publicly accessible recreation trails in Eagle Valley; and the list goes on.

In Summit County, the Fiester Preserve adjacent to the County Commons is an example of an open space in a more urban setting that’s protected by perpetual conservation easements; its original easement was put into place to protect the property’s value as an open space, invulnerable to development.

It’s important to realize that while conservation easements are a tool designed to primarily protect private lands, they offer real public benefits — including access to clean water, unblemished views, preservation of wildlife and in many cases, access to outdoor recreation opportunities.


Response To January 15 Letter By Laura Aldrete

On January 15 2020 SOS Denver wrote Mayor Hancock, City Attorney Kristen Bronson and CPD Executive Director Laura Aldrete. The letter is here for reference. On January 31 the following letter was received.  Please select the letter below or go here to full contents of letter.  On February 3 2020 SOS Denver responded

Response from SOS Denver

See full letter here

Resolution Passed By The Democratic Party of Denver Central Committee

Resolution Supporting The Continued Protection of The Park Hill Golf Course Land Conservation Easement

The Democratic Party of Denver Central Committee Meeting, January 25, 2020

WHEREAS The Platform of The Democratic Party of Denver states in its opening paragraph that “We stand for individual freedom and the needs of the community. We believe government should serve all the people. We believe the economy should be democratically owned and controlled in order to serve the needs of the many, not
to make profits for the few”; and

WHEREAS The Platform of The Democratic Party of Denver goes on to say that “We must protect land, water and air as we manage growth and modernize our transportation and energy infrastructure. We must conserve limited water resources and expand and preserve Denver’s parks, wetlands and green and open spaces;” and

WHEREAS the Platform of The Colorado Democratic Party states in its values-centered preamble that “Colorado is beautiful. And we want to keep it that way. Our economy and health depend on it. The health of our land, air, and
water–and the health of future generations–cannot be bought and sold;” and

WHEREAS The Platform of The Colorado Democratic Party goes on, in its section on Environment, to say that

• “Our local, state, and national leaders must manage growth, pollution, and the extraction of natural resources while providing for the long term protection of our people, our communities, and our environment over and above the interests of short term needs and profits.”
• that “we oppose selling public lands outright or leasing them at minimal rates, except for the purpose of conservation or protection of ecology, habitat, and contained species;”
• that “We support public and private efforts to conserve and preserve land through open space programs; we support coordinated regional and state control of growth and open space acquisition;”
• and that “We call for expanding and strengthening local and state conservation easement programs;” and

WHEREAS the 155-acre Park Hill Golf Course (PHGC) land is zoned Open Space-Recreation (OS-B) and since 1997 it has been protected by the perpetual open space conservation easement that Denver taxpayers paid $2 million for under the Webb administration; and

WHEREAS the land was purchased in July, 2019 by Westside Investments (WI) at well over the market value for land designated as open space but well under the market value for land to be developed; and

WHEREAS WI is reportedly working to find a way to remove the conservation easement from the land; and

WHEREAS Denver voters overwhelming supported Referred Measure 2A on the ballot in 2018 to provide $45.94 million to acquire additional land for parks, trails, and open space and to improve and maintain new and existing parks, trails, and open space in Denver; and

WHEREAS the 155-acre PHGC land is the largest remaining undeveloped tract that potentially could be available to fill the park shortages in Denver; and

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that we, The Central Committee of The Democratic Party of Denver, call for Denver City Council’s continued protection of the perpetual open space conservation easement for the Park Hill Golf Course land and oppose any effort to remove the conservation easement from the land.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this resolution shall be sent to the members of Denver’s City Council and to a comprehensive list of Denver media outlets.