Options for Land Preservation

Keep the sweet land away from developers, and in its natural state for all to enjoy. A look at different methods of land conservation.

| August/September 1995

  • land preservation
    Preserving open stretches of land in its natural state benefits not just this generation, but future generations too.

  • land preservation

One afternoon last summer, I drove 150 miles from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, to Sunnybrook Cattle Company, my family's ranch along the front range of the Rockies. I drove through the southern tip of Wyoming because it's a way of going around the mountains rather than through them, and because there's something about all the emptiness of a Wyoming landscape that fills me, stops up the holes in me with space. Hundreds of miles of nothing. Save for the traversing lines of this highway and a fence line or freight train, it seems the land here has always been this way. But I wonder if it will always stay this way, or if it should.

When I top the hill on the red dirt road that goes by our ranch, I see three large homes that weren't there when I was a kid, and when my dad decides he has to go into town-a task he deplores to get some baling twine or a part for his tractor, I ride along. As we approach the sprawling ticky-tacky housing developments pushing north from Fort Collins toward our place, my dad begins to worry. "This used to be the old Maxwell farm," he says. In fact, there's an old barn standing in the middle of the identical homes. He remembers all the old farms that have been swallowed up by prefab construction as the population along the Front Range has exploded in the last few years.

The West is big, and we think that gives us the right to sprawl across it. More than 30,000 people moved into our rural county in the last five years. The small college town of Fort Collins has gone from 87,511 people in 1990 to 97,589 at the end of 1994.

Ten thousand people moved in, in just four years, and planners project 7,792 people will move into Larimer County this year alone. What used to be a very livable country town has more megashopping malls than I can count, cul-de-saced in every direction by some of the most astonishingly ugly housing developments imaginable. The only justice I can conceive of is if all the urban planners who are proposing those developments were forced to live in them and listen to their neighbor's plumbing through the prefab walls that are going up overnight and selling for $100,000 as real estate prices ride the population boon. Reaching mountain or rural recreation now involves traveling through a maddening snarl of cars, fast-food chains, ugly houses, highways, and parking lots; and people are beginning to wonder and worry about all that "quality of life" that brought them into the county in the first place.

Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Idaho have all recently faced the question of how to deal with an influx of people seeking a higher quality of life. It's the great challenge of policy makers to deal with this growth efficiently so that it may be a boon to the economy without destroying all the reasons-like open space that people came there in the first place. It's the challenge of individuals, not only to influence those policy makers, but to do our individual part for the stewardship of our own land where we can.

There's a lot you can do to stop the strip-mall sprawl aside from writing your local congressman. Of course you can vote smart and lobby, but you may have never realized that you control the development rights to your land, and you can give up those rights to conservation or in some cases sell them to guarantee conservation. In any case, you need not be the defenseless victim of suburban encroachment.

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