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Date: August 2015

Keeping the Canyon Beautiful: Clear Creek Land Conservancy

by Vicky Gits

Clear Creek Land Conservancy Preservations - Clear Creek in Winter, Terri Rosevear, 2014

Clear Creek in Winter. Photo by Terri Rosevear (2014)

Clear Creek Land Conservancy works in the Clear Creek drainage basin from the Continental Divide to Golden, covering parts of Clear Creek, Gilpin and Jefferson counties. Its focus is Clear Creek Canyon, a ruggedly beautiful and historically development-threatened area.

Clear Creek Land Conservancy

Location: Golden

Year founded: 1986

Executive director: Claire Riegelman

Jefferson County: 1,901.7

Gilpin County: 260

Clear Creek County: 74.42

Total acres protected: 2,236

(Includes acres acquired and owned in fee; acres covered by a conservation easement and acres acquired and transferred to public entity.)

CCLC has conserved lands in and around Mount Vernon, Cody Park, Rilliet Park, the Beaver Brook Trail and throughout Clear Creek Canyon.

The nonprofit treasures the canyon as a place “where people and nature exist together for the benefit of both.” The organization aims to ensure the canyon remains its “near-to-natural state forever.” (Board of Directors job description, 2014)

The goal of the land trust is to preserve as many acres as possible and steward them successfully in perpetuity. However, the increasing level of state regulation is having a significant effect on the pace of land conservation, said Claire Riegelman, CCLC executive director.

“Though the increased regulation is helping to ensure sound conservation transactions, the additional administration and costs are making it more difficult for land trusts and landowners to conserve land,” Riegelman said.

Inspirational donation

Carla Coleman, a Denver psychologist and early conservationist, inspired the creation of CCLC by donating a 240-acre conservation easement on the Clear Creek Canyon side of Lookout Mountain in 1986. She and her husband owned a cabin in Rilliet Park on Lookout Mountain.

CCLC supports the Peaks to Plains Trail construction on Clear Creek and holds the conservation easement on the key Oxbow Parcel, (2009), at the west end of tunnel 5 on Highway 6.

Remaining flexible

CCLC is working on a multifaceted project in the Mount Vernon area that exemplifies an important aspect of the work done by land trusts: flexibility. “Land trusts have plans for how they hope projects will proceed, but the projects rarely if ever, follow those plans. The projects succeed because land trusts stay on their toes and remain flexible in order to preserve as many conservation values as possible,” Riegelman said.

Conservation in action

The conservancy's role has two parts: active conservation through conservation easements and stewardship of its conserved lands in perpetuity. For example, last November, CCLC took measures to camouflage red graffiti defacing rock outcroppings on the Beaver Brook Trail.

The 8-mile-long Beaver Brook Trail extends from Windy Gap on Lookout Mountain to Stapleton Drive in Genesee Park off Interstate 70 and is owned and managed by three entities: Jeffco Open Space, the Clear Creek Land Conservancy and Denver Mountain Parks.

CCLC received its state certification in 2009.

A few of CCLC's successes are:

Carla Coleman Conservation Easement, 240 acres, 1986. First conservation easement donated to CCLC. Includes more than one mile of the east end of the Beaver Brook Trail.

Mount Vernon, 160 acres, 1996, includes over one-half mile of Beaver Brook Trail.

Rilliet Park, 273.5 acres, 1997, donated by homeowners corporation, Rilliet Park Association.

Estella Leopold “Shack West,” 260 acres, 2006, donated by ecologist Aldo Leopold's daughter, Estella, who lived there in the '70s. Shack East is the property Aldo Leopold made famous in the book, “Sand County Almanac.”

Northwoodside Asset Transfer (CCLC - Northwoodside Merger) 644 acres, 2008.

Lookout Mountain land, 2.3 acres adjacent to Windy Saddle Park, 2011. Transferred to Jeffco Open Space.

Mission statement: “Clear Creek Land Conservancy is dedicated to the preservation, conservation and stewardship in perpetuity of the open spaces and natural and scenic resources of the mountain and foothills region of the Clear Creek area.”

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