From the state line to South Fork, not many locations exist where we average town dwellers can see what is so grand about the Rio Grande. Generally, bridge crossings, airplanes, and photographs provide our views, since much of the stream is bordered by private property.
Below Alamosa and beyond South Fork, the landscape opens up enough to reveal what is there, down on the ground. Working ranches and farms, private residences and developments, resorts, commercial enterprises, industries, railroad grades, and public lands vie for the available space near the river.
For private landowners like the pioneers who settled there, it was a good thing to get here early, as later comers needed increasing amounts of money, sagacity, or good luck to accumulate a piece of land, large or small, along the river. And it definitely would be taboo for everyone to be tromping around on private land, damaging it and invading privacy, so we are fortunate to have large amounts of public land nearby where we can play and restore our spirits.
Today, with human population and commercial enterprises multiplying, the threats to our land, water, wildlife, and traditional rural way of life have also multiplied along the Rio Grande. But we also have many private landowners who care deeply about these values.
How can landowners ensure that their beloved land and way of life will continue, in a world where everything seems to be a gamble? They can accomplish these goals by establishing conservation easements.
I want to single out today the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) as an outstanding example of the worthwhile land trusts in the Valley.
In general, there are advantages, sacrifices, and responsibilities involved. An advantage is the tax break, well deserved because the taxable value of the land is reduced after an easement is established.
An obvious disadvantage is that the land value decreases because an easement is on it, and the owner cannot later change his or her mind to make some money by developing it or splitting it up. The easement exists in perpetuity.
This sacrifice can affect future generations and future buyers of the real property. It affects the way that the easement may be used, for ranching with some light recreation or for how many cows, letís say.
Hard choices must also be made by those who consider donating a big sum of money to a trust for an easement. From the point of view of a donor like GOCO or from a number of private foundations and governmental programs, the values of an easement must be important enough to justify donations, which are harder to obtain in this economy, and from the point of view of the trust, which must justify the administration.
When an easement is made, then who owns what? The easement is not deeded to the land trust, as the landowners still own the real property, but the trust henceforth holds the easement and is obligated to administer it in a manner that will protect and preserve it.
To date, the conservation easements completed by Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust total 27. That figure testifies to the impressive commitment that has been made by both longtime and newer residents of the San Luis Valley.
The people who have made the easements along the Rio Grande with the RiGHT deserve our heartfelt thanks and respect. These generous folks are making an enormous difference because they care, a lot.
And thanks are owed to the local staff, volunteers, contributors, friends, and neighbors who gathered to get acquainted last week for a hoedown at the Gilmore Ranch. They honored top leaders in the water community, listened to the music of the Rifters, and enjoyed a delicious barbecue.
More information is available at www.riograndelandtrust.org. or 657-0800.
Next week, restoring the river.