Horse Gulch Blog

Watchdogging for the greater Durango area

10 Nov 2014

La Plata Open Space Conservancy’s Jerry Zink dismisses mountain biker’s trail requests

Posted by Adam Howell


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The president of La Plata Open Space Conservancy scoffed at the requests of fourteen mountain bikers who asked two city boards at a joint meeting not to close several trails on city lands that are slated for closure.

Sunnyside Farms Market, owned by Holly Zink, opened in conjunction with its sister business, Sunnyside Meats processing facility, which is owned by Holly's father, Jerry Zink.

Sunnyside Farms Market, owned by Holly Zink, opened in conjunction with its sister business, Sunnyside Meats processing facility, which is owned by Holly’s father, Jerry Zink. Some of the beef sold at Sunnyside Farms Market is grazed on Jerry Zink’s land, which is held under conservation easements. Image borrowed without permission from website of Sunnyside Farms Market.

Jerry Zink, President of La Plata Open Space Conservancy and owner of Sunnyside Meats processing facility, erroneously told a crowd of mostly mountain bike advocates that conservation easements don’t respond to need, and that Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) does not award grants for user-specific projects.

La Plata Open Space Conservancy holds the Deed of Conservation Easement for several properties on City of Durango open space lands that were purchased with the help of grants from Great Outdoors Colorado, who awards the monies to the city in return for them putting the land under easement with the Conservancy. The wording of several of the deeds in question allows for recreational uses on the lands and amendments to be made to the deeds.

Both of Zink’s factual fallacies came in response to a string of public comments that were made in resistance to a city proposal to close several trails on city lands that are popular among mountain bikers.

All of Zink’s comments are quoted below, with his falsehoods highlighted in red.

It was mentioned that some of the projects that I think would make you all happy have been proposed for GOCO to fund and they have not,” said La Plata Open Space Conservancy President Jerry Zink. “It’s in their nature to fund open space which has a lot of uses, and is not specifically for recreation. That may change some day. But the way it is now–any of these lands that Kevin was talking about–he said there’s a conservation easement here. Those lands were purchased by public money administered by the GOCO board.  And they require La Plata Open Space or some other conservancy to hold an easement that’s a legal document that is forever, and it doesn’t respond to need. There’s been a lot of talk about need tonight. Conservation easements don’t–they’re not like a utility easement that, well if you need to put in fiber, yeah here’s the easement, you can do it. Maybe you can build a road. Maybe a railroad. Easements for a dog run–there’s a lot of easements out there. But a conservation easement is completely different. It’s a legal document that lasts forever. It’s got a list of things that may happen. It’s got a list of things that are prohibited. And nowhere in there does it say that we need to develop Olympic-class athletes, or we need to have a place for kids with their Strider bikes or freeriders. It’s just not in there. And that document was put there to protect the interests of the public that put the money out to buy the piece of ground. And of course Durango has a lot of needs, and maybe they will get met. But the La Plata Open Space Conservancy is required to make sure that GOCO’s expressed legally documented interests are preserved. And regardless of what we might want to do, it’s our job to make sure that this list of things is followed. And that to me is what the rub is here.”

IMG_3084Whatever the source of the rub was for mountain bike advocates speaking to the previous joint meeting of Durango’s Natural Lands Board and Durango’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, don’t let Zink’s comments confuse you as to what the city is allowed to do with their land purchased partially with GOCO grants.

Specifically, Zink is wrong in stating that it is unnatural for GOCO to fund open space projects that are meant specifically for recreation.

A number of examples of open space acquisitions funded strictly for recreation can be viewed on GOCO’s website, including the Valmont Bike Park in Boulder. In 2014, GOCO also funded skate parks, ice rink repairs and athletic facilities to make outdoor recreation more accessible for various communities.

Jerry Zink's land that's held under a conservation easement has been grazed recently.

Jerry Zink’s land that’s held under a conservation easement has been grazed recently.

As for Zink’s comment that conservation easements don’t respond to need, this blogger would refer you to the Deed for Conservation Easement for Dalla Mountain Park, where the reserved right is given to the city to permit bicycling activities, and to amend (read #10) the document jointly with the Conservancy if it’s agreed that there is a need.

Last fall, city officials had multiple freeride features, primitive shade structures, fire rings, and mountain bike medals that were decorating a tree removed from Horse Gulch at the behest of La Plata Open Space Conservancy’s Executive Director Amy Schwarzbach. She told this blogger, using vague uncertain wording, that the features constituted a violation of the easement.

“I don’t like my meetings when I sit down with Kevin Hall and Cathy Metz and I have to say this has to come out, this has to come out, this is in violation of the easement,” Schwarzbach said last winter. “I don’t use the word violation–that’s a very, very strong term in our industry.”

Schwarzbach has since denied having made the aforementioned comments, even though this blogger still has them on a digital audio file, and Durango’s Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz confirmed the request for removal in an email last February.

Hello Adam:

Yes, at the request of the La Plata Open Space Conservancy who holds the conservation easement for City property in Horse Gulch, all man-made structures have been removed by Parks staff including the referenced shade structures, fire rings and illegal jumps on trails. This work was completed last fall.

Cathy

Aside from conservation easements being the main excuse that officials site for destroying jumps, Schwarzbach recently highlighted the fact that local landowners have donated nearly 30,000 acres of land in conservation easements over the past 22 years.

“A conservation easement limits the development on a property, thus protecting what the easement defines as the conservation values,” said Schwarzbach. “Each easement is based on a template with similar terms and provisions (the parts that are defensible in a court of law), but the reserved uses and land owner rights vary depending on the type of conservation easement.”

This house on Jerry Zink's land was allowed to be built under a reserved used written into the conservation easement for the property.

This house on Jerry Zink’s land was allowed to be built under a reserved use that’s written into the conservation easement for the property.

Another example of how conservation easements respond to need is the  reserved uses of property owners to build a single-family home on a predetermined piece of their conservation-easement-deeded land, as is the case with Jerry Zink’s parcel at 2997 County Road 215. On Zink’s land, the document’s wording protects all of the marsh and wet meadow type of habitats from development or human encroachment.

Phone calls made to Zink’s office at La Plata Open Space Conservancy and to his home seeking clarification on his comments that he made at the joint board meeting were not returned as of Monday.

Schwarzbach did not respond to emailed questions as to the meaning of Zink’s comments when he said that “conservation easements don’t respond to need.”

This story will be updated if and when either one of them returns my messages.

Sign the petition resisting possible closure of several trail segments on City of Durango lands by clicking here.

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