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Land conservancy steps up to preserve Hidden Valley property

Conservancy gathers support for 30 acres in Falls Creek

La Plata Open Space Conservancy will take the lead once again to gather community support for the preservation of 30 acres in Falls Creek, also known as Hidden Valley.

“Twenty five years ago we protected Hidden Valley,” said Amy Schwarzbach, executive director of the La Plata Open Space Conservancy. “And now we have the opportunity to protect the largest adjoining piece of private property available.”

Earlier this month, longtime Durango resident Ed Zink said the time has come to resolve the future of 30 acres he and his family own in Falls Creek, an area seven miles northwest of Durango.

The area is revered for being prime wildlife habitat and adjacent to the Falls Creek Archaeological Area. It’s also one of the most popular hiking and mountain biking spots in the county managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

However, Zink’s property abuts the Forest Service land, and people regularly trespass onto his property to visit the popular Falls Creek waterfall, which is also on his property.

As a result, Zink said he will either sell the land to be conserved at a “bargain sale” or he will sell it to the highest bidder for construction of a residential home.

Already, Schwarzbach said the support is flooding in.

“We have a lot of great support and forward momentum,” she said. “Our role now is to continue that community support.”

Schwarzbach said the effort has already elicited letters of support from Fort Lewis College’s Center for Southwest Studies, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, Animas High School, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, the Durango Area Tourism Office, Durango Nature Studies, Falls Creek subdivision, the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, La Plata County, the State Historic Fund, the Archaeological Conservancy, the Trust for Public Lands and Turtle Lake Refuge.

This is not La Plata Open Space Conservancy’s first go around in Falls Creek.

In the 1990s, the accredited land trust organization led an exhaustive grass-roots effort to preserve 530 acres in the area from a high-density development, which led to the more than $1 million purchase and transfer to the Forest Service.

Zink and his family have said they prefer the land be ultimately transferred to the Forest Service to remain as open space.

“We’re hoping it will be successful,” Zink said Thursday. “We’ve been talking about this for a number of years, and now it looks like some action is happening.”

Zink did not disclose an exact dollar amount for what it would cost conservation efforts to purchase the land. The land is listed for sale through the Wells Group for $499,000.

Zink said it’s likely the family would discount that price by about a third.

“If the community steps up, then we will step up,” Zink said.

Schwarzbach said the conservancy is in the early stages of identifying possible funding sources, such as grants. The group will continue to bolster community support in coming days.

The conservancy is sponsoring an internship program for high school students through Durango Nature Studies, for instance. Students who apply can explore a particular area of study that relates to Hidden Valley and then receive credit hours.

For now, Schwarzbach said community members who want to help or send letters of support can email info@lposc.org.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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