Summit County’s beautiful landscape infuses our region with new residents and visitors annually, making its upkeep and expansion crucial to our economies. A few local organizations work to protect and preserve the character of Summit County’s pristine alpine environment. Their efforts not only help preserve the natural landscape, but also expand recreation areas so that everyone continues to enjoy the solitude of nature regardless of Main Street traffic.
The Summit County Open Space and Trails Department, founded in 1996, is one of the key organizations to this kind of sustainability. Its mission is three-fold:
- To protect and preserve the environment with its backcountry personality, continuing to provide one-of-a-kind outdoor experiences to locals and visitors alike.
- To expand recreation areas so that traffic gets spread to more areas, decreasing the rate at which the environment may be impacted by recreation use and enhancing the outdoor “experience,”
- To continue providing unique outdoor experiences unlike any outside Summit County.
The Open Space and Trails Department works in close cooperation with the citizen-appointed Open Space Advisory Council, which identifies parcels of land that are valuable to maintaining the integrity of our mountain community. Land assessments are based on: access, agricultural and cultural, buffers, extensions, recreation, uniqueness and visibility.
Once valuable land parcels have been identified, The Open Space Advisory Council shares that information with the Board of County Commissioners, with the intention of purchasing and protecting it. The Board of County Commissions is funded by a mill levy on property tax allocated to serving residents’ need for maintaining the place they live and work. Funds from this tax typically amount to an annual budget of $1.25 million.
In 2015, the County Commissioners spent $400,000 to complete twenty transactions, acquiring 90 acres of land for protection, for wetlands, public access points, and recpath easements.
Three projects have been completed so far during 2016, preserving 67 acres for $280,000. These projects expanded trailhead access and improved panoramic views accessible to hikers by cleaning up abandoned mining sites, which also helped protect waterways from potential hazardous runoff. Several additional projects are underway and scheduled for completion during 2016.
These three organizations work hard to protect and preserve the character of Summit County, benefitting the environment and expanding the natural playground so everyone can continue to enjoy the solitude of nature. The protection of these land parcels excludes them from development, protecting the environment from destruction and helping maintain the character so that it continues to be a desirable destination for living and vacation.