A community is defined by its green spaces – the parks, open places, wildlife areas and historic sites that connect us to our rural and cultural heritage, and improve the quality of our everyday lives.
The Ophir Valley near Telluride has long been recognized by locals and visitors as one of Colorado’s rare, unspoiled wilderness gems – now, that recognition is shared by Washington and the entire U.S.
Thanks to the efforts of Colorado’s congressional delegation – Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennett as well as Congressman John Salazar – the U.S. Congress recently approved an additional $1 million appropriation to protect key lands in the Ophir Valley. Support for the effort, which will consolidate critical in-holdings in the heart of the San Juans, also came from a Federal program called the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Using $2.32 million in previously appropriated LWCF funds, the United States Forest Service was able last week to increase the Uncompahgre National Forest by 264 acres.
Funding provided in previous fiscal years had allowed the USFS to begin to acquire 1,200 acres of patented mining claims in Ophir Valley, thereby consolidating public ownership, protecting wildlife corridors and ensuring public access for recreation.
The preservation of these vital wilderness lands represents a cooperative effort between the citizens of the Town of Ophir and of San Miguel County, together with conservation and recreation organizations and the U.S.F.S.
Hiking, camping, mountain biking and cross-country skiing attract thousands of visitors to this magnificent valley each year. The Ophir Valley contains the Howard’s Fork, a headwater tributary of the San Miguel River, and is home to numerous native wildlife species, including the threatened Canada Lynx and the endangered Uncompahgre Fritillary butterfly.
Consolidating Forest Service ownership prevents the building of homes in inappropriate places, thus protecting delicate ecosystems and the scenic splendor of the area. After all, it is this wild scenic beauty that draws the visitors who support our local tourism-based economy.
The Trust for Public Land, a national conservation organization, is handling the real estate transaction. This year, TPL plans to acquire another 200 acres, resolving many pending land use and access conflicts that stem from the development of private land within public lands.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund was created to preserve such outdoor recreation resources as parks, trails, and wildlife lands. A simple and logical plan whereby revenues from offshore oil and gas royalties are reinvested into land protection and outdoor recreation, LWCF is only now being used to its full potential. Congress is currently considering legislation that would permanently dedicate funds to the LWCF at its authorized level of $900 million. Permanent and full funding of this program is vital to the protection of our nation’s last wild places.
We are very grateful for Senators Udall and Bennett and Congressman Salazar’s commitment to the citizens of Colorado. Their efforts in making this project a reality and their support of the invaluable Land and Water Conservation Fund represent a critical investment in the future which will pay dividends for our communities and our public lands for generations to come.
– The Town of Ophir and San Miguel County