YMCA of the Rockies and The Conservation Fund announced the protection of nearly 2,800 acres of Snow Mountain Ranch, a popular family destination and conference center in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Working in collaboration with members of Colorado’s congressional delegation, U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Colorado State Forest Service and Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), this project permanently protects Snow Mountain Ranch’s rich wildlife habitat, the Pole Creek riparian corridor, more than 50 miles of recreational trails and the property’s recovering forest.
The land is protected through a conservation easement, a voluntary agreement between the YMCA of the Rockies and the Colorado State Forest Service that forever eliminates the right to subdivide and develop Snow Mountain Ranch’s 2,786-acre backcountry, while allowing the YMCA to continue its valuable programs and operations at Snow Mountain Ranch. The Conservation Fund facilitated this complex conservation transaction over a four year period, working to craft a conservation easement suited to this unique property and securing federal and state funding from the USFS Forest Legacy Program and lottery-funded GOCO to complete the easement purchase.
“This conservation preserve has been a significant collaborative effort of many organizations working together,” said Kent Meyer, president and CEO of YMCA of the Rockies. “We are so pleased that this land and the wildlife that live here will remain an amazing outdoor experience for future youth and families who visit Snow Mountain Ranch.”
Established more than 100 years ago, the YMCA of the Rockies represents a rich part of Colorado’s history. Snow Mountain Ranch, located in Grand County between Winter Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, draws more than 77,000 visitors a year from across the world. Snow Mountain Ranch provides outstanding outdoor education programs to 4,500 kids and serves more than 2,000 teenagers with overnight camping experiences annually. The property’s majestic Rocky Mountain views and year-round recreational opportunities make this an extraordinary retreat where youth, families and national and international conference groups can connect with nature.
The easement on Snow Mountain Ranch’s backcountry safeguards habitat for a variety of wildlife species, including the federally-threatened and state-endangered Canada lynx and the state-sensitive Northern goshawk. The protected land also establishes the foundation for the next generation of healthy forests in an area devastated by beetle damage, while maintaining the water quality of Pole Creek, a source of water for Snow Mountain Ranch, the town of Granby and the region. Preserving this land allows Snow Mountain Ranch to continue its long-standing tradition of providing year-round access to more than 50 miles of world-class hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, horseback riding and biking trails.
Selling the conservation easement allows YMCA of the Rockies to retain the jobs of 450 seasonal and year-round employees while continuing to provide affordable outdoors programs for disadvantaged public school students as well as low-cost family retreats for military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The conservation easement, valued at $9.4 million, was purchased using $5 million from the federal Forest Legacy Program, administered cooperatively by the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado State Forest Service, with matching funds of $1 million from the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund and a $3.4 million donation in value from the YMCA of the Rockies.
“Colorado’s forest and mountain landscapes are the heart of our state’s heritage and we must often rely on private stewards of the land, like the YMCA of the Rockies, to protect these lands we love,” said Congressman Jared Polis, who, along with Senator Mark Udall and Senator Michael Bennet, secured Forest Legacy funding for this project. “Through the transaction announced today, we ensure that one of Colorado’s most treasured places is preserved and can be enjoyed by our children and our children’s children for years to come.”
“Snow Mountain Ranch has recognized the value of this open space and I was proud to help secure federal funding to preserve this unique community asset for future generations,” said Sen. Udall.
“Living in Colorado means getting to enjoy our state’s unmatched natural beauty and abundant recreational opportunities,” said Sen. Bennet. “The agreement to protect and preserve these 2,800 acres on Snow Mountain Ranch is great news for the thousands of Coloradans who love its hiking, biking and skiing trails and outdoor education programs, as well as for the 450 employees with the YMCA of the Rockies, whose hard work makes this a favored destination for thousands of tourists every year.”
The federal Forest Legacy Program supports state efforts to protect environmentally sensitive forests through the voluntary protection of privately owned forest lands. The Forest Legacy Program is one of the only sources of federal funding dedicated to protecting valuable private forested lands and preventing fragmentation and conversion of ecologically sensitive private forests to other uses.
“The Forest Service is pleased to partner with the YMCA to preserve almost 2,800 acres of Snow Mountain Ranch’s forests, wildlife habitat and riparian areas through this conservation easement,” said Maribeth Gustafson, deputy regional forester for the Rocky Mountain Region. “The YMCA shares a border with the Arapaho National Forest and has worked with the Forest Service to actively manage these lands with a commitment to renewing healthy forests. The conservation easement ensures that future generations will be able to enjoy recreation and education opportunities on these lands.”
Since 2000, the Forest Legacy Program has protected over 12,000 acres in Colorado, utilizing $10,546,000 in Forest Legacy funds. These federal funds have been matched by $9,620,000 from other sources, primarily Great Outdoors Colorado/lottery funds and landowner donations. Across the country since 1992, the Forest Legacy Program has protected over two million acres utilizing $476 million in federal funds, matched by $616 million from non-federal partners.
“We applaud the participation of Snow Mountain Ranch in the Forest Legacy Program, which will ensure the long-term stewardship of their forest resources,” said Jeff Jahnke, state forester and director of the Colorado State Forest Service. “For the past several years, the Colorado State Forest Service has worked with the ranch to help them achieve their forest management objectives. Their longstanding commitment to sound forest management makes Snow Mountain Ranch an ideal participant in the Forest Legacy Program.”
Great Outdoors Colorado is the result of a citizen initiative passed in 1992 to help preserve, protect, enhance and manage the state’s wildlife, park, river, trail and open space heritage. It receives up to one-half of Colorado Lottery proceeds to award grants to local governments and land trusts and make investments through Colorado State Parks and the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “The GOCO Board is proud to be a part of this innovative project that passes along the recreational riches and beauty of Snow Mountain Ranch to future generations,” said GOCO Board member Matt Sugar, who represents the 2nd Congressional District on the Board and is a resident of Grand County.
“At a time when youth camps across the country are being sold, and children are increasingly alienated from nature, Snow Mountain Ranch will remain available for kids and their families to experience the great outdoors in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado,” said Christine Quinlan of The Conservation Fund’s Colorado Office. “The collaborative efforts of these private and public partners allows the YMCA of the Rockies to achieve its goal of protecting Snow Mountain Ranch for future generations.”