From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):
The Conservation Fund on Tuesday finalized its acquisition of Sweetwater Lake, getting a bargain price and marking a milestone in the effort to protect the 488-acre property long eyed for big development.
It’s been almost a year since the fund began negotiating with investors who owned the lake surrounded by White River National Forest and bordered by the Flat Tops Wilderness. The plan was to buy the property for $9.3 million and then transfer it over to the White River National Forest, which would tap the Land and Water Conservation Fund to pay back the national conservation organization.
“We knew we were taking a risk, but this is why The Conservation Fund exists; to bridge the gap between private landowners who can’t wait around all day and federal agencies who have their own processes,” The Conservation Fund’s project manager Justin Spring said. “We can’t thank the investors enough for taking a chance on conservation. Without them, we wouldn’t be here.”
As developers circled the property in 2019, The Conservation Fund and the Eagle Valley Land Trust built their plan to raise money that could bolster a bid for Land and Water Conservation Fund support. Things fell into place quickly. Eagle County pledged $500,000 to help protect the lake in Garfield County. Great Outdoors Colorado loaned The Conservation Fund money. The White River National Forest’s $8.5 million plan for Sweetwater Lake landed at No. 9 on the LWCF’s plans for the coming year. That marked the largest request on the Forest Service’s list of 36 projects. And, if approved, it will be among the largest allotments of LWCF money ever in Colorado…
The Forest Service is in a holding pattern as it awaits a final decision from Congress on LWCF project funding.
“But because of the ranking and the very strong support we feel very confident about that funding,” said White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams.
There are many more steps before the Forest Service can open Sweetwater Lake to visitors. After title and appraisal work, the Forest Service will study how existing structures may fit into its overarching recreation plan. The agency is still in talks with Colorado Parks and Wildlife about a unique management partnership.