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Park still possible for Polston property

Posted: Thursday, Apr 25th, 2013

Local farmers grew crops on part of the Polston school property last summer. Courier file photo by Lauren Krizansky

Courier staff writer

ALAMOSA — A healthy living park is still a possibility in Alamosa County.

On Monday night, the Alamosa Board of Education (ABOE) moved to continue negotiations with The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a California-based non-profit public benefit corporation, to sell the former Polston Elementary property on the corner of Highway 17 and Highway 160 with the intent to establish the Rio Grande Healthy Living Park (RGHLP).

“We have reached a verbal agreement,” said Denver-based TPL project manager Wade Shelton in a phone interview on Wednesday. “I am very happy about the discussions with the ABOE and we want to take this property off of their hands and put it in the hands of the public.”

The next step, he said, is to draft and complete an option agreement, which would enable the TPL to secure funding.

TPL is a national non-profit conservation organization that assists with the land and funding acquisition to ensure that everyone, in particular, every child, lives within a ten-minute walk to a park, garden, playground or protected natural area, according to the organization. The trust will also help with fund-raising efforts and, once the property is deeded over, TPL will help facilitate a formal community planning process.

Last June, Alamosa Board of Education President Bill Van Geison signed a letter of intent on behalf of the district to explore selling the former Polston Elementary property to The Trust for Public Land (TPL) for the park.

RGHPL project leader Luette Frost, who has been working on the project for five years, told the ABOE on Monday night that the community support was still strong.

“I have really seen the community support for this project grow,” Frost said. “It could bring money into the community and economic development... It will attract people to this community and this school district as well. It is valuable.”

Last year, The San Luis Valley Food Coalition brought the idea of the RGHLP to the ABOE and contacted the TPL to help make their vision a reality.

The park plans are based on similar projects in the state and nationwide. Since it sits on the edge of the Alamosa Ranch, the park would provide access to the ranch via bike and walking trails. It would also potentially include quarter acre farm plots to encourage new farmer development; community gardens and greenhouses; a multi-purpose building with possible kitchen space, classrooms and a food distribution warehouse; outdoor events space; amphitheater; theme gardens; outdoor classroom space; picnic tables; a wetlands preservation site; a traditional water uses education site; a Sites of the San Luis Valley playground; and exercise stations.

Plans also include a food hub, a place where local producers can distribute their products. The project would look to work with United States Department of Agriculture food hub grant programs in the future to fund such endeavors. Today, there are around 35 recognized food hubs in the nation providing local farmers a reliable market.

Last summer, the ABOE and the coalition made it possible for eight Guatemalan families to farm a Polston parcel and will permit the successful agricultural endeavor to continue this year.

The ABOE also did not make a motion to approve an offer to purchase the Alamosa Open High School Property on Monday.

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