Yampa River System Legacy Project

Posted: Apr 1, 2005

Resource context:
Development and subdivision; Recreation

Regulatory/administrative context: Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund (GOCO) money

Objectives: A voluntary, incentive-based project to protect the ecological health of the Yampa River and the productive agricultural lands it supports, while providing for appropriate recreational opportunities.

Participants: Ranchers, businesses, Moffat and Routt County officials, Steamboat, Craig and Hayden town officials, The Yampa Valley Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Department of Wildlife, National Park Service, Colorado State Parks

Framework: MOU; the Yampa Valley Legacy project, partnered with the town of Steamboat and the Yampa Valley Land Trust, a non-profit organization, to facilitate grant funding. Because the partnership was formed in response to a funding opportunity, rather than to a perceived threat, it was less cohesive, and its members had less of a long-term sense of "team" interests than of their varying individual interests.

History: The Yampa River flows from the high mountains near the resort town of Steamboat before heading West through rolling, sagebrush-studded hills to its confluence with the Green River near the Colorado-Utah border. Ranching and tourism have been the cornerstones of Colorado's Yampa River Valley for decades, with the river supplying water for cattle and irrigated hay fields, as well as fishing and boating.

 Upper Yampa River Valley
Nearly 80 percent of the land along the length of the Yampa is private. Like many amenity-rich small towns across the West, Steamboat and its surrounding rural landscape is a hot spot for development. Many local citizens realized that the profitability of subdividing and developing land could quickly unravel the valley's agricultural base and the wildlife habitat and open space it provides.

Over the years, citizens had come together to defend the valley's rural character. They turned the tide on a proposed ski area that threatened to carve up a large swath of ranchland for homes, condominiums, and hotels just outside of Steamboat. They succeeded in negotiating conservation easements on private ranchlands throughout the valley. And the two county governments worked together developing recreation plans with state and federal agencies.

In 1995, the state of Colorado established what is known as GOCO, a program that funds open-space preservation and outdoor recreation using Colorado Lottery money. The valley's history of collaborating on land-use issues provided a springboard for the quick creation of the Yampa River System Legacy Project, a diverse group of stakeholders that joined together in response to the opportunity presented by GOCO.

Accomplishments: The Yampa Legacy project was awarded a $6 million grant from GOCO for the purchase of conservation easements and cooperative management agreements with landowners. The project also consolidated under one integrated plan recreation sites owned by various government entities. All partners signed a Memorandum of Understanding that outlines the process of the Legacy team's operations.

Challenges/constraints: Although the project helped negotiate recreation access on private land, hard feelings remain regarding the forthrightness of the state and its intentions of creating a state park on the river, leaving open questions of public access.

Here, as in many other places in the West, the basic disagreements between conservation interests, recreational users, and private land owners continues. Conservationists are often opposed to conceding recreation access on preserved private land, while outdoor enthusiasts wonder why public money is spent on land that excludes the public. And some landowners resent pressure to allow public access, including access to the Yampa River, on private property.

For more information see:

Great Outdoors Colorado

Yampa Valley Land Trust
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