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AVLT celebrates half a century of conservation

Locations: News Published

By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff

The Aspen Valley Land Trust (AVLT), which turns 50 this year, has invited its supporters to a party and silent auction near Aspen this weekend to help the organization celebrate its half-century of successfully preserving land from development and other despoliation.

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The “Promise of Forever 50th Anniversary Land Gala” is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 12, from 5:30-11 p.m. at the White Star Ranches property of Suzanne Farver, situated in the McLain Flats area just outside of Aspen.

Tickets range from $150 (for those under 40 years old or who are new donors) to $450, and tables for 10 are going for $5,000, according to the website,

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The program will include a cocktail reception, a “Farm-To-Table” dinner, and a dance to the sounds of the MoTunes band, the website announced.

And chief on the agenda for the evening, said Executive Dir. Suzanne Stephens, will be a presentation of awards to AVLT co-founder John Doremus; first land donors Fritz and Fabi Benedict and first conservation-easement donor George Stranahan; as well as laudatory remarks about the large number of supporters who have been behind AVLT from its start as The Parks Association in 1967 in Aspen.

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“There’s hundreds and hundreds of people that have supported us over time,” said Stephens, who recently replaced former AVLT director Martha Cochran. “And I think that’s really cool.”

AVLT’s story

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The organization was founded by Doremus and two other noted Aspen residents — Eve Homeyer and Francis Whitaker — in 1987, and was originally dubbed The Parks Association, to reflect the founders’ interest in “preserving the natural environment of Aspen and surrounding areas,” according to a historical statement on AVLT’s website (

At first, the association was simply a non-governmental organization set up to take ownership of open areas and parks to prevent them from being developed either by private interests or government.

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The website catalogues a considerable legacy from those times, including such parks as Glory Hole, Iselin, Henry Stein, Freddie Fischer, Aspen Alps and others, as well as a fledgling trails system built with the help of local governments in the 1970s and 1980s.

But the association already was having a growth spurt by the late 1970s.

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In 1978, for instance, Stranahan donated a conservation easement that protected much of the townsite of Lenado, up Woody Creek, and in 1981 he did the same for his Flying Dog Ranch near Carbondale.

In 1980, according to the website, the association spearheaded a campaign to create and open-space tax in Pitkin County, providing a funding mechanism for the outright purchase of land and easements, which altered the mission of the group.

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It became the AVLT in 1992, and in the years since has partnered with Great Outdoors Colorado for such large-scale purchases as the Windstar Conservancy (founded by singer and activist John Denver) and acting to preserve more than 4,700 acres of open land in Pitkin and Garfield counties.

In 1999, former Pitkin County Manager Reid Haughey was hired as AVLT’s first full-time director, and since then the organization has stepped up its work considerably.

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“All told, AVLT has worked with landowners and public agencies to conserve nearly 40,000 acres across five counties, making a real and lasting difference to the landscape of Western Colorado,” states the website.

This has included preservation of the ghost town of Independence, near Independence Pass on Highway 82, and the 35-acre Ryan Parcel near another ghost town, Ashcroft, on Castle Creek, among other projects.

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After all these years …

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Today, said Stephens, the group is still hard at work, including some projects to preserve properties in the mid-valley including:

• 25 acres at the base of Red Hill near Carbondale, once owned by Pat Groom and zoned for commercial development;

• the Marble Children’s Park in the village of Marble, up the Crystal River from Redstone;

• and the 335-acre Ryobi Ranch property surrounding the Powers Art Center just off Highway 82 near Carbondale, a memorial for the late art collector John G. Powers that was opened in 2014 by his widow, Kimiko Powers.

In addition, Stephens said, AVLT currently is working to preserve a 4,000-acre ranch in the Cattle Creek area, although that deal is still in its infancy and Stephens was not able to discuss it much.

Tickets to the 50th anniversary party were still available as of Aug. 8, Stephens said, though there were only about 30 left at that point (280 or so attendees is the goal, she said), and information about buying tickets or about the celebration itself are available on the website.