Jacob's Cliffs awarded $3 million

Courtesy of a Great Outdoors Colorado grant, a critical piece of Durango open space came closer to preservation this week.

The area along the southern flank of Animas Mountain goes by many names. For climbers attracted by its exceptional bouldering, it has come to be known as "The Secret Spot." Hikers and runners accessing the area's network of trails often call it by the name of a neighboring subdivision, "Sailing Hawks." And as the City of Durango has worked to purchase the 176 acres from owner Jake Dalla and permanently preserve it as open space, it is using the name "Jacob's Cliffs."

Of the value of the parcel, Scott Graham, chair of Durango's Open Space Advisory Board, commented, "It is a great parcel. I am intimately familiar with it because I grew up near the property as a kid and live close to it now. It's close to town. It's a great piece of wildlife habitat. It's a great area for passive recreation. And it ties in with other parcels of preserved open space."

The area is densely forested and populated by an unusual number of sandstone boulders, some of which are the size of large buildings. The acreage is also bordered on two sides by Bureau of Land Management property and abuts the City of Durango on a third side. Several well-trodden trails already cross the property. Jacob's Cliffs was identified in the City's Parks, Open Space and Trails Plan as one of 20 priorities for acquisition. What makes Jacob's Cliffs different than the other 19 projects was that Dalla was willing to come to the table. What also makes the 176 acres different was the recent receipt of $3 million in state lottery proceeds to facilitate the purchase.

City Manager Bob Ledger commented, "Obviously, we are very pleased with the GOCO grant award as it will allow the city to protect a beautiful piece of property and keep it from being developed forever."

City Council member Virginia Castro said the GOCO funding will help facilitate the parcel's preservation. "We have been working for years to try to preserve the Jacob's Cliffs area," she said. "Nowwith the GOCO funding, that will be a reality. The beauty and natural wonder of this area will be available for future generations to discover and enjoy."

Additional discussions between Dalla and the city need to occur to finalize terms of the purchase. The city has until December 2007 to complete the acquisition and currently has $526,760 in the Open Space Fund that also has been set aside for this acquisition.

In addition, the San Juan Skyway Land Conservation & Recreation Initiative received $5.7 million GOCO grant. The project, with elements in Montezuma, Ouray, San Juan and San Miguel counties, will conserve 3,565 acres.

Public lands planning kicks off

The future management of public lands in Southwest Colorado is currently hanging in the balance. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management recently kicked off along-range planning effort that could change the shape of the local landscape. Community study groups will be formed in January to help the agencies identify issues and concerns to be addressed in a plan revision process over the next few years.

The joint planning process will eventually produce an environmental impact statement to guide management of some 2.5 million acres of regional national forest and BLM lands for the next 10 to 15 years.The effort is somewhat overdue. The current San Juan National Forest Plan was completed in 1983 and has been amended 21 times.The BLM San Juan Resource Area Management Plan was completed in 1985.The San Juan planning effort will be unique in that it will conduct long-range BLM and Forest Service planning together.

Those interested in serving as members of a Community Study Group are encouraged to contact 247-7468.

Public lands passport enacted

Despite a last-minute flood of public opposition, new legislation that permanently implements public lands access fees was pushed through Congress early this week. An Ohio congressman successfully attached a rider that will require members of the public to buy an "America the Beautiful" pass to recreate on all land managed by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Reclamation.

U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, succeeded in attaching his bill as a rider to the giant Omnibus Appropriations Bill recently enacted in the lame duck session of Congress. The bill was never passed by the House and was never introduced, given a hearing or voted upon in the Senate. Omnibus bills are considered "must pass" legislation because of the potential for a government shutdown. The omnibus bill passed on the evening of Dec. 6.

Opponents of Regula's bill mobilized a massive phone call and letter-writing campaign in a last-ditch attempt to delete it before the final vote. Despite thousands of letters and phone calls and press coverage coast to coast, the effort failed. Fee opponents have vowed to take their fight to the next Congress.

"This is a bad bill, and it is a bad tax. It will not be accepted by the American people," said Robert Funkhouser, president of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, one of the groups coordinating opposition to public lands fees.

Key provisions of the rider include permanent recreation fee authority for national forest and BLM land as well as land managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the National Park Service. Failure to pay the fees will be a criminal offense. Drivers, owners and occupants of vehicles not displaying a pass will be presumed guilty of failure to pay and can face an up to $5,000 fine and/or six months in jail.

Purgatory decides to go Jamaican

Durango Mountain Resort is putting a little spin on the import-export trade. The number of international workers at DMR will jump this winter season. Forty Jamaicans were recently hired to work as housekeepers from December through March.

The effort was organized by work-exchange professionals Antioch Associates through the U.S. Government's H-2B visa program and fills a void in DMR's workforce.

"We've had difficulty filling housekeeping jobs over the past several seasons, and Antioch is well established assisting resorts in organizing additional workers," said DMR General Manager Bill Rock. "We consistently run at a work force deficit in the housekeeping department during the winter months, and while this will help close the gap, jobs are still available now for anyone who would like to apply."

Under the program, a business must first demonstrate a need for supplemental workforce and then provide proof that international employees will not displace American workers. In the course of the application process, Durango Mountain Resort was required to place and track ads and provide employment need and history before final approval by the Department of Labor.

The Jamaicans coming to Durango are responsible for their own airfare, and room and board during their employment.

- compiled by Will Sands





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