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Land Conservation of Mesa County Colorado

Sharon Sullivan
Grand Junction Free Press
Sharon SullivanThe Swinger Family is preserving the open spaces for the future.

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Dave and Julie Swinger followed in their neighbors’ footsteps when they decided in October to put their small farm northeast of Fruita in a conservation easement.

Long, green alfalfa fields grow in front and along one side of the house that is set back against an overgrown wash that’s home to deer, coyote, red fox and sometimes bear. The conservation agreement the Swingers made with the Mesa Land Trust will protect those animals’ habitat, they said.

The Swingers still own the land and will continue to live there with their two daughters, 11-year-old Livvy and 8-year-old Molly, in the house Dave built 10 years ago. They share the property with two horses, a mule, cats and dogs.

Dave will continue to grow hay, as well as several fruit trees, but he’ll never subdivide or develop the land. Neither can future owners if he and Julie should decide to sell.

“Look at it, don’t you think that’s worth preserving?” asked Dave, as he looked out across a green alfalfa field ” open space with views of the Bookcliff Mountains, Grand Mesa and the Colorado National Monument. “This is what we want.”

The property, in the vicinity of M and 21 Roads, is located in the northern part of Fruita’s buffer zone and is contiguous to another 118-acre conserved farm, creating a 148-acre block of preserved open lands between Fruita and Grand Junction.

“We figured we didn’t need to split this, and hopefully neighbors will follow suit,” Dave said.

There are two buffer zones in Mesa County ” one between Grand Junction and Fruita and the other between Grand Junction and Palisade.

“The buffer zones were created by the municipalities and the county to create separation between the communities so each community can maintain its own identity,” said Margie Latta of Mesa Land Trust.

Landowners donate a portion of the value of the development rights, which makes them eligible for state tax credits, which can then be sold for cash.

“Most of our easements are donated,” Latta said. “But in the buffer zones we can actually purchase (development rights), which is a unique situation.”

Each year municipalities that make up the buffer partners give money to Mesa Land Trust to help purchase conservation easements. The Trust then leverages that money to apply for grant money through Great Outdoors Colorado, Latta said.

The Swingers sold their right to develop their land for $216,000 ” less than what they could perhaps get if they sold their land to developers.

GOCO donated $125,000 toward the purchase of the development rights. Mesa County contributed $59,000; Grand Junction donated $45,000; Fruita gave $7,000; and Palisade donated $2,500.

“We certainly benefited by what they paid us, with the understanding that our property value could go down. That’s the risk we take,” Julie said.

“My philosophy is there’s always going to be somebody who’ll want a small acreage like this,” Dave said. “It might narrow the buying pool,” but he said he’s not necessarily planning on selling it. “It’d be fine to stay right here.”

The Mesa Land Trust has preserved more than 50,000 acres of land in Mesa County in 125 conservation agreements. Twenty-eight of those lie within two buffer zones.

Reach Sharon Sullivan at ssullivan@gjfreepress.com.


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