January 3, 2022 (Westcliffe, Colo.)—Colorado Open Lands and San Isabel Land Protection Trust announce today that they have merged operations, effective Dec. 31. The two nonprofit organizations share a mission – to permanently protect Colorado’s wild and working lands.
Larry Vickerman, president of the San Isabel Land Protection Trust Board of Directors, said, “I am very excited that the properties San Isabel has protected over the past 26 years will now become part of Colorado Open Lands’ portfolio. COL has the staff expertise, resources and statewide perspective to bring an abundance of new opportunities to the landowners in our service area and to enhance the pace, scope and efficiency of conservation in our region. More than 10,000 acres in our region are poised for protection through conservation easements.”
Colorado Open Lands and San Isabel enjoy rich histories of successful land protection. San Isabel was founded in 1995 by a group of Custer County residents concerned about increasing development pressures and the potential loss of agricultural lands, scenic vistas and wildlife habitat. Since then, San Isabel has permanently protected 42,434 acres in Custer, Fremont, Huerfano and Pueblo counties through partnerships with more than 120 landowners and families. Operating at the statewide scale, Colorado Open Lands has protected nearly 600,000 acres since its founding in 1981.
Colorado Open Lands President and CEO Tony Caligiuri said, “COL is honored to inherit the relationships and interests of the conservation community in the San Isabel region and to facilitate continued stewardship of the landscapes San Isabel has worked to protect. The staff of both land trusts hope to advance conservation in the region, with a waiting list of landowners interested in pursuing land preservation and restoration projects.”
COL will keep an office and full-time staff in Westcliffe. Larry Vickerman has been elected to a seat on COL’s board of directors, and COL has established a local advisory board to provide area expertise and community connection going forward.
Legal and administrative costs for this merger were supported by a variety of public and private sources, including a fundraising campaign, “Keeping the Promise,” and a Great Outdoors Colorado – GOCO Resilient Communities grant.
Paul Phillips, COL Board Chairman, said, “San Isabel has become one of the premier land trusts in the West, having preserved more than 42,000 acres of iconic open lands, thanks to the dedication and generosity of its terrific board, staff and supporters. I am enormously excited by the merger of San Isabel and COL, which will create a true conservation powerhouse, with even greater capacity to serve present and future Coloradans by preserving the most precious remaining lands, waters and habitat throughout our beautiful state.”
The two organizations have a long history of collaborating, including on the Bluff Park in Westcliffe. San Isabel partnered with COL to put a conservation easement on its 5-acre parcel at the park, restricting its future use to recreation for the enjoyment of residents and visitors. The easement also permanently preserves the uninterrupted, stunning view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
COL Board member Sandy Guerrieri added, “It is stunning to stand at the edge of Westcliffe and experience the expansive view of the Sangre de Cristos as they rise above the productive agricultural grass lands of the valley bottom. Living and ranching in Gunnison, I realize that Gunnison and Westcliffe have issues in common: an agricultural community facing pressures of new population growth and increasing recreational use, as well as pressure on their water resources. The merger will only strengthen these two organizations in their mission of conserving lands.”
San Isabel was founded by grassroots volunteers concerned about growth coming to the Wet Mountain Valley. The founding board was made up of self-described environmentalists and ranchers, educators, businesspeople and artists who saw the intrinsic value and beauty in the landscape and had the foresight to preserve it. They did so through cultivating community connections, careful stewardship, and fun community events, such as the Art for the Sangres art show and the Hardscrabble Mountain Trail Run.