I’m an unapologetic conservationist. I remember – during my first trip to Alaska in 1992 – Amy turning to me and saying as we were driving through massive open spaces on the Sterling Highway – “New England looked like this 200 years ago.” While I understand the conundrum of being an environmentalist while owning an SUV (for a provocative and fabulously fun book on this top, try Michael Crichton’s latest masterpiece State of Fear), I’ve focused my “environmental” activity on land conservation.
While I live in the Republic of Boulder, home of Open Space, I was inspired to have an active, positive impact on conserving the front range mountain backdrop – the region of land in Colorado about 150 miles long and about 5 miles wide where the mountains meet the plains (from the top to the bottom of the state – it’s what you see if you look west from I-25.) In the mid 1990’s, the five counties in this stretch of land (Larimer, Boulder, Jefferson, Douglas, and El Paso) started a “Front Mountain Backdrop Study” to try to figure out how to have a multi-regional coordination effort to preserve this land. In the late 1990’s, it disappeared into the bermuda triangle of unfinished government projects.
I was inspired to act – rather than simply think or talk – in 1999 when I found out that a plan for a 142–acre open-pit mine was being proposed on the back side of Eldorado Mountain. I live behind Eldorado Canyon (part of the Front Range Mountain Backdrop near Boulder) and was blown away that anyone thought it would be reasonable to build a quarry on the back side of this mountain. Fortunately, I wasn’t alone, and the initiative was defeated.
Within a year, I heard of a proposal to put three 500’+ towers on the top of Eldorado Mountain ostensibly for HDTV transmission. I thought the whole proposal was absurd and was incredibly riled up when I started hearing broad statements like “the tech / business community was creating all of these environmental problems.” I gathered up some of my Boulder-area entrepreneurial friends and formed the Front Range Alliance (FRA) – a 501c(3) aimed at educating the tech and business community on issues and projects that affected the Front Range Mountain Backdrop. At the time, I was a compete newbie with regard to the conservation and environmental infrastructure in Colorado, so as part of my activities I got to learn an incredible amount about what people were doing, what worked, and what didn’t work.
FRA was actively and visibly involved in helping defeat the tower rezoning initiative. We looked at getting involved in a number of other projects and realized we needed to get smarter about the entire problem. As part of this, we worked with a group called the Colorado Conservation Trust on a study to map the Front Range Mountain Backdrop. As we began to understand the magnitude of the issue, we correspondingly saw the size of the opportunity.
We spent a year puzzling over how to co-exist within the existing environmental and conservational non-profit infrastructure of Colorado. At some point, the FRA board reached a critical juncture where we had to decide whether or not to functionally scale up Front Range Alliance beyond the small organization that it was. As we struggled with this, the notion that the world (specifically the Colorado Front Range) didn’t need “yet another environmental non-profit” started to dawn on us. We concluded that – like many for-profit companies – we could achieve our objectives faster and with more impact if we joined forces with an existing, significant, functionally and philosophically aligned organization.
Fortunately, the Colorado Conservation Trust (CCT) board agreed. CCT acquired FRA at the end of last year, I joined the CCT board, and two of my fellow FRA board members (Ryan Martens and Liz Jacques) became trustees. Last week, I sent out the following letter to the members of the Front Range Alliance, signalling the end of FRA as a stand-alone organization while reinforcing its potential future impact on the Front Range Mountain Backdrop through the ongoing efforts of CCT.
Since the founding of the Front Range Alliance (FRA) in 2001, my involvement in preserving the natural beauty of Colorado’s Front Range Mountain Backdrop has evolved in exciting and innovative ways. This evolution continues today with the recent announcement of the Front Range Alliance Board’s decision to join forces with the Colorado Conservation Trust (CCT).
Our strong desire to continue FRA’s success prompted our decision. The Front Range Mountain Backdrop is increasingly threatened by growth pressures and, at times, poorly planned development. We face limited resources and feel that our partnership with CCT can only expand the impact we can have in preserving the natural landscapes of the Front Range.
CCT’s goals are based on the premise that additional conservation investment from both the private and public sectors is necessary in order to preserve the land of Colorado. CCT focuses on securing new conservation dollars from untapped sources and leveraging investments in order to maximize the effectiveness of donors’ gifts. By working with CCT’s staff and Board and the influential circles of which they are a part, I am confident that FRA’s conservation goals will be accomplished at a higher level than if we were to continue to work on our own.
CCT is a lean, effective organization – over 96% of every dollar donated last year was invested directly into land conservation. CCT has raised nearly $6 million in the last three years, matching these funds with more than $12 million in other public and private dollars, and has reinvested those contributions in 25 conservation projects throughout eight regions of our state.
CCT has a proven commitment to preserving threatened lands in the Front Range Mountain Backdrop. CCT is currently collaborating with a number of funding agencies and non-profits to complete a $22.3 million preservation project in Larimer County. This project will result in the protection of approximately 55,000 acres of ranch lands with significant wildlife, scenic, recreational, agricultural, and historical values. Just recently, the CCT Board awarded $220,000 to jumpstart this project, expand the capacity of the local land trust and help to address the complicated system of severed mineral rights in the area.
The Board of FRA has unanimously agreed to join CCT and I am pleased to become the newest member of CCT’s Board of Directors. FRA Board members, Ryan Martens and Elizabeth Jacques, have also joined CCT as trustees.
I encourage you to continue your meaningful involvement in land preservation by making a contribution to CCT in support of its work in the Front Range of Colorado. CCT and FRA have, together, accomplished a great deal for the Front Range. But there is much more to do – achievable only with the engagement of people like us who are passionate about the beauty and character of our state’s landscapes.
Thank you for all that you do to preserve the Colorado we love.
Member, Board of Directors, Colorado Conservation Trust
Founder, Front Range Alliance