Rebecca Jewett remembers the moment she fell in love with Colorado Springs' wild spaces. A fifth-generation Coloradan, it took her until college to put boots to trail and hike Pikes Peak. Eschewing the marathon length of Barr Trail, she hiked up the wilder backside, through the Crags. When she reached the top, with the spreading expanse of the city below, she gained a new perspective on her home.
"Every morning, when I look at Pikes Peak, I relive moments of awe and inspiration for this region," says Jewett. "To be able to stand on the top of Pikes Peak and look down on the city where I lived was breathtaking."
The experience guided Jewett's career path, as well. After 11 years with the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, she's currently executive director of the Palmer Land Trust, an organization that has spent the past 38 years defending some of the most iconic views and landscapes in the Pikes Peak region.
PLT is responsible for protecting more than 100,000 acres of land: from farm and ranchland to wildlife habitats, scenic vistas and public-use open spaces. The Trust has been instrumental in ensuring our foothills aren't thoroughly scored with roads or littered with houses; that Pikes Peak's north slope between Woodland Park and Divide remains undeveloped; and that Red Rock Canyon remains an open space, as opposed to a golf course.
At the heart of PLT's work is a legal tool known as a conservation easement. These easements dedicate land to specific goals that often aim to protect wildlife habitats, migration paths, sustainable agriculture and forestry, water quality or scenic vistas. In exchange, land owners receive tax benefits — and a sense of lasting accomplishment: Easements stay with the land even if it is sold.
Right now, PLT's priority is purchasing a ring of easement properties around Pikes Peak as part of its Protect the Peak Initiative. The Trust is currently updating maps and sorting its conservation priorities through 2020. As it turns out, the Peak is losing open lands to developent throughout the El Paso-Teller-Fremont tri-county area faster than almost any other comparatively sized region in the country. There's a risk, then, that future generations may miss some of the pristine land and iconic views locals associate with Pikes Peak. Jewett says that to complete a permanent ring of protected lands, PLT will have to secure at least 10,000 more acres.
Fortunately, they already have a few footholds. The Pikes Peak Conservation Corridor, the open lands north of the Peak between Woodland Park and Divide, includes the headwaters of the South Platte and Arkansas rivers, and it hosts a major elk population. To the southwest, PLT holds easements near Dome Rock, Phantom Cañon and Shelf Road. And, as noted above, they protect the foothills outside of town.
This year, its fourth as a Give! participant, the Trust hopes to raise $30,750 to help protect Pikes Peak and its natural splendor for generations to come. It will work with organizations like the Women's Mountain Biking Association of Colorado Springs to tie their conservation mission into responsible use of our green spaces.
"You first have to protect the land," says Jewett. "That is how we protect our fun and our identity and why we all live here."
The 2015 Give! Campaign features 88 area nonprofits. To learn more, volunteer or donate, visit indygive.com before midnight on Dec. 31.