LA JARA – Speculation that the 45,650-acre La Jara State Public Trust land is up for auction was recently confirmed by the Colorado State Land Board.
However, fears that the largest parcel of state-owned land in southwest Colorado could end up in the hands of a private developer appear unwarranted.
Kristin Kemp, head of outreach and communications for the State Land Board, said the commissioners approved the hiring of the Western Rivers Conservancy (WRC) to explore the sale of the La Jara trust land at their town hall meeting. ‘April 2021. The action authorized the WRC to seek “an entity whose mission is directly aligned with supporting public access, community use and the permanent protection-conservation of natural and cultural resources, such as than a state or federal agency, a nonprofit organization focused on conservation, or a sovereign nation.
The La Jara Public Trust lands, including the La Jara Reservoir State Wildlife Sanctuary, lie at the southwestern edge of the San Luis Valley in the San Juan Mountain Range and are approximately 5.5 percent of the total land area of Conejos County. The property is surrounded by public lands managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), the US Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), as well as numerous private land holdings.
According to Kemp, the State Land Board’s asset management plan for the La Jara property suggests that the beneficiaries of the school trust “may be better served if the State Land Board considers divesting the property and reinvesting the proceeds.” .
Most of the La Jara property was acquired in 1876, and several strategic acquisitions and land swaps have taken place over the past 10 years to bring the property to its current size of 45,650 acres. There are 11 grazing leases, a private recreation lease, and an athlete access lease with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Public Access Program) on the property.
In an email response to Valley Publishing, she said, “There are three main reasons. 1) The annual financial performance of La Jara leases is significantly lower than that of other similar assets in the Council’s portfolio. We do not believe that the annual income from pasture and hunting uses will ever exceed 1% of the value of the underlying asset. 2) The appreciation of land value lags behind similar land in state trust. 3) The property’s geographic location, lack of year-round access, and short summer season limit potential rental possibilities.
“Further, we understand that the local community cares deeply about the preservation of public uses on the property, although these uses do not best align with the State Land Board’s constitutional mission of earning income for schoolchildren from land in trust. We believe that the ideal owner would be an agency or public agencies whose mission is more directly aligned with permanent conservation and public use.
For more information, those interested can contact Dieter Erdmann, WRC Interior West Program Director at 303-638-9465.
About the Land Board: The Colorado State Land Board owns and manages 2.8 million acres of land and leases these assets to help fund Colorado public schools. The agency has earned $ 2 billion for Colorado public schools since 2008.
“We are very proud to be the primary fundraiser for the Colorado Department of Education’s Building Excellent Today (BEST) program. BEST has provided capital construction grants to 524 schools serving 225,000 students since the program’s inception in 2008. Conejos County has received several BEST grants totaling $ 59,978,297, including grants to build new schools. for South Conejos RE-10, Sanford 6J pre / K-12, and more recently Centauri High School in North Conejos RE-1J.
Many other schools have also been built in the San Luis Valley over the past 10 years with BEST grants.