John Denver property sale threatens conservation efforts

John Denver property in Colorado is for sale, a move seen by some environmentalists as the unofficial end to the John Denver's vision to protect some of the land west of Aspen from being overrun by developers.

Keith Jacobson/AP/File
Singer John Denver performs at an outdoor concert in Boston. The 950-acre property that John Denver bought in the late 1970s as headquarters for his Windstar Foundation is being sold.

The 950-acre (385-hectare) property that John Denver bought in the late 1970s as headquarters for his Windstar Foundation is being sold, a move seen by some environmentalists as the unofficial end to the singer's vision to protect some of the land west of Aspen from being overrun by developers.

The property in Old Snowmass is under contract to be sold to a private buyer. The conservancy placed the property on the market in September for $13 million. The foundation was dissolved last fall.

The Windstar Land Conservancy was founded in 1996 by the Windstar Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Institute to own and manage the land Denver loved. The institute still operates an office on the property for about 20 employees.

According to the Aspen Times ( ), foundation officials want to use the money to help the institute achieve its goal of opening a state-of-the-art green office building in Basalt, which is about 18 miles (30 kilometers) northwest of Aspen.

Denver moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in the late 1960s and celebrated the Aspen area in such songs as "Rocky Mountain High." He died Oct. 12, 1997, when the plane he was piloting crashed into California's Monterey Bay.

Institute Executive Director Marty Pickett said the sale is scheduled to be completed by the end of April. An agreement with the potential buyer of the Windstar property will allow the institute to maintain its offices there for two years. Pickett said the Basalt office probably won't be completed by that time and they will have to find an interim site.

"It's a real bittersweet time for us. We loved that property," she said.

A conservation easement still protects about 930 acres under the direction of The Aspen Valley Land Trust and Pitkin County Open Space and Trails. The only activities allowed on that part of the property include protecting wildlife habitat, irrigating and agricultural uses, said Martha Cochran, the land trust's executive director.

The sale is considered by some environmentalists as the unofficial end to Denver's vision for the Windstar Foundation, a nonprofit organization that was heavily involved in environmental issues.

"Windstar kind of fizzled after John died," said Karmen Dopslaff, a member of the Windstar Land Conservancy's board of directors and former board president of the Windstar Foundation.

Dopslaff and other Windstar supporters struggled to keep the foundation going for years until they learned from Denver's visionary partner, Tom Crum, that Denver felt the foundation should be disbanded and its mission carried out by other local organizations, including ones he founded.

Dopslaff said the goal now is to build the John Denver Aspenglow Fund into a separate endowment that will help charitable causes for years to come. Annie Denver, the singer's first wife, said it will keep his vision going.

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