Land Trusts are established to permanently protect land with significant Conservation Values…



What is a Land Trust?

A Land Trust is a non-governmental, non-profit charitable organization…


A conservation easement is a voluntary conveyance of legal interest in land, where a property owner gives or sells the development rights…

Highway 9 Iron Springs Construction

Our Iron Springs easement has been directly affected by the Highway 9 construction long Lake Dillon…

Tax Benefits

A conservation easement is a voluntary conveyance of legal interest in land, where a property owner gives or sells the development rights…

Protected Properties

A conservation easement is a voluntary conveyance of legal interest in land, where a property owner gives or sells the development rights…

Land Matters

Land Conservation Valuesgiberson-agriculture

Land Trusts are established to permanently protect land with significant Conservation Values:

  • Natural Lands, Open Space and Scenic Views
  • Water, Watersheds, and Riparian Areas
  • Wildlife Habitat and Migration Corridors
  • Ranching and Agriculture
  • Outdoor Recreation and Educational Opportunities
  • Buffers and Connectors
  • Historically Important Land or Structures

Land Conservation Tools

Fee Simple Purchase or Donation – This is the simplest form of protection where the Land Trust purchases the land in full, or receives a donation of the full title to the land. As an example of this tool, the Land Trust received a donation of The Overlook at Piney Acres and now owns this property.

Bargain Sale – The Land Trust may also purchase the land at a reduced or bargain price, and the seller may be eligible to receive a tax benefit based on the value of the land that was donated.

Conservation Easements – A Conservation Easement is a conveyance of a partial interest in the ownership of the land in order to protect the conservation and natural resource values of the property. The Land Trust prefers to work with Conservation Easements so the land stays in private ownership. Learn more about Conservation Easements.

Public Education – Helping the community understand and appreciate the importance of natural lands protection is an important part of land conservation. For more information, go to our Events Page.


Conservation Easements

wetlands-waterdanceA conservation easement is a voluntary conveyance of legal interest in land, where a property owner gives or sells the development rights to a qualified preservation group, like Continental Divide Land Trust, to protect the conservation values on the land. The landowner retains ownership, but agrees not to develop it. Since the easement applies to future owners of the land, it ensures perpetual protection. Continental Divide Land Trust will ensure that this agreement is always adhered to, forever.

The land use restrictions in a Conservation Easement usually limit future development and the number of home sites but can, and often do, limit other uses as well. Future mining, commercial timber cutting, and significant commercial uses are usually prohibited.

The conservation values on land to be protected with a Conservation Easement must be “significant” per the regulations of the Internal Revenue Service. It is the Land Trust’s responsibility to determine whether a property has “significant conservation values” and is therefore eligible for protection under a Conservation Easement.

CDLT works with willing donors or willing sellers in the conveyance of a conservation easement. A conservation easement is always a voluntary agreement that is negotiated between the landowner and the Land Trust.

Because each property is unique, each Deed of Conservation Easement agreement is unique, reflecting the characteristics of the property and the needs and desires of the landowner. Throughout the negotiation process, each conservation easement agreement is tailored to meet the land protection desires and landowner financial/tax planning interests while protecting the conservation values on the land.

When an easement has been signed and recorded in the public records of the County Clerk, the Land Trust must see that it is honored in perpetuity. The Land Trust will visit the property annually thereafter and will defend the easement’s intent if necessary as part of its land stewardship responsibility.

Conservation easements may be donated in full, donated in part with a portion of the value purchased, or purchased at the full value of the development rights that are given up. Public access is not required as part of a conservation easement dedication.

Visit our FAQ to learn more about conservation easements and land conservation.


Tax Benefits

What are the tax benefits of donating a Conservation Easement?cotton-woodsat-wg

A landowner who donates a Conservation Easement can benefit in two primary ways: (1) it permanently protects the important conservation qualities of their land without having to give up ownership, and (2) it can create immediate and long-term tax advantages. To be eligible for tax advantages, a Conservation Easement must:

  • Be permanent,
  • Be donated by the landowner (or subject to a qualified bargain sale),
  • Provide one or more conservation value for public benefit
  • Diminish the value of the property through the restrictions of the Conservation Easement

The two main tax benefits associated with a donated conservation easement are income tax benefits and estate tax benefits. An independent appraisal of the value of the easement determines the extent of the tax benefits.

A qualified appraiser will evaluate the value of the property before the Conservation Easement restrictions have been put in place (the “before” value); then the appraiser will value the property with the conservation restrictions in place (the “after” value). The difference between the “before” and “after” values is the amount of the charitable contribution for purposes of the donor’s tax advantages.

Recent changes have been made to both the State of Colorado and the Federal government’s tax regulations, resulting in even greater tax benefits for donated Conservation Easements. These recent changes have been made in response to citizens’ concerns over the loss of open space in Colorado and throughout the country. Because of the incentives created by tax benefits, more land with conservation values will be protected in our community.

State of Colorado Conservation Easement Tax Benefits:

Effective January 1, 2015, the Colorado individual conservation easement tax credit formula is 75% of the first $100,000 donated value and 50% of any remaining donation up to a total possible credit of $1.5M. This is a significant increase from the prior formula of 50% of the donated value of the conservation easement up to a $375,000 credit.

Tax credits may be used against the easement donor’s state tax liability and carried forward for up to 20 years from the date of donation. However, taxpayers who do not have the income tax liability to make use of these credits may benefit by selling all or part of their credits to taxpayers with higher tax obligations. These tax credits are transferable and can be sold to other Colorado taxpayers for cash. This creates a win-win situation that allows easement donors to realize cash for the gift of the Conservation Easement on their land.

In order to be eligible for the Colorado Conservation Tax Credit, the conservation easement must be donated to a Certified land trust. The State of Colorado implemented the Certification program in 2009 to ensure that all conservation transactions for which a tax credit is taken provide benefit to the People of Colorado through protection of scenic views, agricultural and ranching lands, wildlife habitat and other conservation values. Continental Divide Land Trust is a Certified land trust, Certificate number CE005.

In 2010, changes were made to the Colorado Conservation Tax Credit program which capped the maximum tax credits available in each tax year. Beginning in 2013, the Colorado Conservation Tax Credit is capped at $45 million per year. In the event that the tax credit cap is met in one year, landowners may be eligible to place their tax credit request on a wait-list for the following year.

Federal Income Tax Benefits of Conservation Easements:

In addition to the State of Colorado tax credits, qualified conservation easement donations are eligible for Federal Income Tax benefits. Landowners may deduct up to 50% of their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) for up to sixteen years. Qualifying ranchers and farmers may deduct up to 100% of their AGI.* This tax benefit is extended yearly and may change back to the original provision in the tax code which allows a qualified easement donor to deduct up to 30% of the AGI over six years. Please contact us for the latest news on Federal Income Tax benefits for land conservation.

* The term ‘qualified farmer or rancher’ means a taxpayer whose gross income from the trade or business of farming (within the meaning of IRS section 10 20321(e)(5)) is greater than 50% of the taxpayer’s gross income for the taxable year.

Estate Tax Benefits of Conservation Easements:

Property encumbered by a Conservation Easement has a lower value because of the use restrictions, often meaning that the children could afford to inherit the property without having to sell to pay estate taxes.


Highway 9 Construction Project

Iron Springs realignmentContinental Divide Land Trust (CDLT) accepts conservation easements with the intent to hold the easements in perpetuity and enforce their terms and provisions as they are originally written.  However, according to our Amendment Policy which was adopted August 28, 2013, CDLT recognizes that given the perpetual term of the easements, it is possible that changes in future conditions or circumstances may justify amending an easement. CDLT only amends easements in a manner that complies with applicable law and only for uses that have a neutral or beneficial effect on the conservation values protected by the conservation easement.

The following are benefits to the highway realignment:

  •  Highway 9 will be 1/2 a mile shorter.
  •  Long-term maintenance savings means savings for tax payers.
  •  Safety for drivers and wildlife by eliminating “Leslie’s Curve” around the lake.
  •  Underpasses will ensure safe movement for wildlife in the area.
  •  Bike path will be safer and closer to Dillon.

Construction is set to be complete by December 2017.
Receive construction updates from Continental Divide Land Trust by joining our email and mailing list today! Email with your information!


Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Land Trust?bear-giberson

A Land Trust is a non-governmental, non-profit charitable organization dedicated to the preservation of lands with significant natural qualities such as scenic lands, wildlife habitat, natural areas, recreational use, wetlands and watersheds, ranching and agricultural lands, and buffers between communities or development areas. These are known as “conservation values.”

Continental Divide Land Trust is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is qualified to hold conservation easements donated by private and governmental landowners. Because the preservation of these properties is entrusted to us to ensure that the land remains in its natural state forever, we are known as a “land trust.”

What does a Land Trust do?

A land trust accomplishes a variety of objectives:

  • Protects scenic lands, habitat for wildlife and unusual plants, natural areas, wetlands and watersheds, recreational use, ranching and agricultural lands, and buffer areas.
  • Provides information, expertise and education about land preservation options to private land owners, government programs, developers, and others.
  • Accepts conservation easements on private and public land and protects the conservation values on those lands in perpetuity. It cares for its conservation lands through stewardship, monitoring, and assistance with litter pick-up and weed eradication efforts.
  • Enters into willing-donor or willing-seller conservation easements, bargain sales, life estates, charitable remainder trusts, and other land preservation techniques.
  • As a private non-profit organization, the Land Trust is able to work confidentially with private property owners, and those who cannot or will not work with government agencies.
  • Augments and complements local Town and County government open space programs and works cooperatively with those entities.
  • Some land trusts raise funds to purchase open space at market value or at a reduced rate (also called a “bargain sale”). Continental Divide Land Trust accepts donations of property and conservation easements, but has not purchased land.

What is Open Space?

Here in Colorado, “open space” has come to describe the iconic wide open spaces of the undeveloped landscape of the Old West. Once a sparsely populated state, Colorado is now home to over 5 million people and is visited by more than 27 million tourists each year. Development of all kinds – resorts, new homes, energy infrastructure, highways, shopping centers and more – is rapidly diminishing the wide open spaces that once characterized this beautiful state. Continental Divide Land Trust works to help protect Colorado’s unique open spaces, those natural landscapes, river corridors, ranch lands, and mountain valleys that continue to make our state so special.

What is a Conservation Easement?

A conservation easement is a voluntary conveyance of legal interest in land, where a property owner gives or sells the development rights to a qualified preservation group, like Continental Divide Land Trust, to protect the conservation values on the land. The landowner retains ownership, but agrees not to develop it. Since the easement applies to future owners of the land, it ensures perpetual protection. Continental Divide Land Trust will ensure that this agreement is always adhered to, forever. Click here for more information about Conservation Easements.

Why do Landowners want to encumber their land with a Conservation Easement?

Landowners who consider a Conservation Easement realize that their land has special natural qualities and they want to see those qualities preserved. It may be wildlife habitat for a favorite bird or animal, preservation of the family’s ranching heritage, protection of a community trail, or simply love of the land.

A Conservation Easement can reduce the value of the property, meaning that the children may be able to inherit the land instead of sell it to pay estate taxes.

Landowners who donate a conservation easement on their land may also be eligible for tax benefits at both the Federal and State level.

What are the tax benefits of donating a Conservation Easement?

Click here for more information on the tax benefits of donating a Conservation Easement.

What are the public benefits of Conservation Easements?

The public benefits from the permanent protection of scenic landscapes, wildlife habitat, recreational trail access, productive ranch and agricultural acreage, buffers between communities, wetlands and watershed protection, and the preservation of unique natural lands.

The economic viability of our communities is also dependent in large part on the preservation of the natural beauty and wide open spaces for the enjoyment of the public and protection of wildlife.

Not all land protected by a Conservation Easement is available for public access. Even where conserved land is closed to public use, the public still benefits from the protection of scenic views, wildlife habitat, watershed protection, and ranching and agricultural lands.

Continental Divide Land Trust currently holds conservation easements on various properties in Summit and Park Counties that total over 2,600 acres.

If I put a Conservation Easement on my property, must I allow public access?

No. You are not required to allow public access, even if public funds are used to purchase development rights. Allowing public access for a trail or other use would be a voluntary donation by the landowner. However, the Land Trust does currently hold Conservation Easements on several publicly owned properties on which public access is allowed and encouraged, such as McCullough Gulch and Iron Springs.

What happens to the Conservation Easement if I sell the land or die?

Land protected with a Conservation Easement may be sold or passed down to one’s heirs. The easement agreement remains a permanent part of the title and will run with the land even after its transfer. The landowner may continue to use and enjoy the land in ways consistent with the easement, which may include ranching, recreation or other uses. In some circumstances, easements may allow for additional homesites on a small portion of the property, or may provide for small “disturbance envelopes” within which the uses are not restricted by the easement.

Are Water Rights included in a Conservation Easement?

If the conservation values of the land depend on water, and the landowner owns the water rights, water rights are usually part of the Deed of Conservation Easement. Some or all of the water rights stay with the land to protect wetlands, river corridors, irrigated hay meadows, and other water-dependent conservation resources. For more information on encumbering water rights with a conservation easement, see the link for the Colorado Water Trust on the Friends of Open Space page.

Do you work with government open space programs?

Yes, CDLT works with local government open space programs in varying capacities: sharing information, helping with educational programs, providing volunteers for projects, and holding Conservation Easements. Whenever a municipality receives funding from Great Outdoors Colorado Trust (GOCO) (the Colorado Lottery program) to purchase land for open space, GOCO requires a third party restriction on the use of that land to forever ensure that the land stays as open space. This third party restriction is usually in the form of a Conservation Easement. Continental Divide Land Trust holds numerous Conservation Easements for local government open space programs such as Upper French Gulch, 1298 Blue River Parkway, and the Wildernest-Mesa Cortina Extension property.

How are you different from the government open space programs?

CDLT is a private, non-governmental organization and is not tax-supported. The Land Trust does not have the funds to purchase lands for protection, without engaging in fundraising for major private gifts.

Many private landowners are not interested in working with a government agency when they are ready to preserve their land. As a private non-profit organization, CDLT is able to work with these landowners confidentially.

When a local government agency needs a third-party organization to hold a Conservation Easement on their land, as is required by funding from Great Outdoors Colorado Trust, then CDLT can fill that role for the community’s open space programs.

CDLT augments and complements local government open space programs, and provides yet another tool in the tool box of land protection options in our community.

Do you want to lock up all the land so it can’t be developed?

No, not all land is suitable for preservation as open space. CDLT is interested in lands with conservation values of significant public benefit, such as wildlife habitat, wildlife migration corridors, scenic views, recreational opportunities, buffers between communities, and the preservation of our community’s ranching and agricultural heritage.

If Conservation Easements are donated, why does Continental Divide Land Trust need funding?

In taking on the responsibility to negotiate, accept, and hold conservation easements forever, the Land Trust incurs considerable expenses. In the first phase of the negotiations, CDLT staff and Board meet with landowners, tour the property, identify the conservation values, explain the process, provide information and documents, work with the landowner’s attorneys, negotiate the terms of the Deed of Conservation Easement, and oversee the process at every step along the way. The Land Trust will also work with naturalists and biologists to identify and document the natural qualities of the land.

Once the supporting documents have been approved and the Deed of Conservation Easement has been finalized and recorded, the Land Trust takes on the perpetual responsibility of stewardship of the land to ensure that the agreed upon conservation values are protected forever. This involves an annual visit to the property, easement monitoring, and on-going communication with the landowners – current and future.

To be considered a “qualified organization” by the Internal Revenue Service to accept and hold conservation easements, continuing education programs are also necessary, involving expense of course registration, conference fees, and travel.

Because land protected by a Conservation Easement provides benefit to the public, the Land Trust seeks the public’s financial support to further our mission and programs.

Where does the Land Trust’s funding come from?

From people like you who want to see the natural beauty of Summit County and Central Colorado protected for now and future generations. Most of our funding comes from individuals, local businesses and private foundations. Some funding comes from special events and educational programs. Government funding is a smaller part of our budget. We may also request a donation in lieu of a fee for the transaction costs associated with accepting a Conservation Easement.

Click here to help support Continental Divide Land Trust.

How do you provide for the long-term stewardship of the Conservation Easements you hold?

With the acceptance of each Conservation Easement, we also request a cash donation that is applied to our Stewardship Endowment Fund. In some cases, we may raise those funds through private donations rather than request the funds from the easement donor.

The Land Trust’s Stewardship Fund is invested to protect it from inflation, as well as to provide a small annual return to help fund monitoring expenses. The principle is kept intact to be used in the event an easement needs to be defended in the future.

What is Easement Monitoring?

Conservation Easements held by the Land Trust are monitored annually to ensure that the conservation values of the land are being preserved and to determine if the terms of the easement are being upheld. Each year, CDLT monitors each of the conservation easements it holds, using staff and trained volunteers. Monitoring volunteers walk the boundaries of the property and check internal areas of interest, taking notes and photos at designated photo points along the way. For more information, please see Volunteer.

How can I protect my open space property from future development?

You can work with CDLT to determine the best conservation tool for protecting your land. You can select from a number of options, including the outright donation of your property, a conservation easement that permanently restricts development, or other land protection tools. We recommend legal and financial planning advice before embarking on a land conservation decision.

I don’t own property, yet I want to help preserve natural space in central Colorado. What can I do?

You can play a part by getting to know CDLT and staying current with conservation news in the community, volunteering your time, supporting CDLT financially, and talking with your friends and neighbors about land conservation tools. That way, you can help your community protect the land that you think is environmentally, historically, or economically important.Click here for ways to get involved in protecting open space.

Also, you may want to get involved in your state or local planning activities. Planning agencies often provide opportunities for public input on development issues that affect citizens. You can request to be placed on their mailing lists to receive updates on current and future plans for your area. Citizen input can improve the planning process and positively affect future developments to improve the overall health of your community.


Protected Properties

Protected Properties

Following are properties under the protection of Continental Divide Land Trust.


1298 Blue River Parkway

  • Two acre parcel adjacent to the Willow Grove Easement on the Blue River
  • Donated by the Town of Silverthorne in 2007
  • Provides for a recreation bridge over the Blue River, public access, and protection of the river corridor
  • View this property in our Interactive Map >


Blue Sky Ranch


Cow Camp I & II

  • Located on the east side of Green Mt. Reservoir
  • 573 acres donated by Summit County Government in 2004 plus 351 new acres added in 2008
  • Protects ranching heritage, water rights, sage grouse habitat, and scenic views
  • View this property in our Interactive Map >


Doig Meadow


Fiester Open Space Easement

  • Located between Bills Ranch and County Commons in Frisco
  • Six acre preserve donated in 1998 by Summit County, named in honor of Mark and Roberta Fiester
  • Undeveloped buffer open to public with walking trails
  • View this property in our Interactive Map >


Giberson Preserve

  • Located above the I-70 / Frisco Roundabout
  • 174 acre private conservation easement donated by Howard Giberson in 1998
  • Protects wildlife habitat, winter elk range, ranching heritage and scenic beauty
  • View this property in our Interactive Map >


Green Mountain Meadows


Iron Springs


McCullough Gulch Open Space Easement

  • Located along Hwy 9 south of Blue River
  • Seven acres donated by Summit County Government in 1997
  • Preserves public access into the National Forest and scenic views
  • Does not provide hiking access to the Quandary Peak summit.
  • View this property in our Interactive Map >


Overlook at Piney Acres

  • Located on the ridge above Straight Creek in Dillon Valley
  • Anonymous donation of title to three acres in 1999
  • Preserves forested hillside, riparian wetlands, and ridgeline views
  • View this property in our Interactive Map >


Slate Creek Parcel


Upper French Gulch

  • aka Cobb and Ebert Placer, part of Golden Horseshoe east of Breckenridge
  • 173 acre parcel donated in 2005 by Town of Breckenridge and Summit County
  • Protects wetlands, scenic views, and habitat for the Colorado Cutthroat Trout
  • View this property in our Interactive Map >


Wetlands at Water Dance

  • Five acres donated by Rainbow Forest, LLC in 2000
  • Protects wetlands, wildlife habitat, and one of the remaining view corridors from Highway 9 across Lake Dillon in Frisco
  • View this property in our Interactive Map >


Wildernest – Mesa Cortina Extension

  • Located in Silverthorne, this 27 acre property connects the Wildernest – Mesa Cortina Open Space Buffer with open lands owned by the Town of Silverthorne
  • Donated by Summit County Government in 2006
  • Preserves scenic views, recreation opportunities and a riparian corridor
  • View this property in our Interactive Map >


Willow Grove, Lot 39

  • Over 10 acres in the heart of Silverthorne donated in 2002 by private landowner
  • Now owned by Town of Silverthorne, easement amended in 2006 to allow a paved trail and recreation bridge across the river for public access
  • Protects a pond, wildlife habitat, scenic views, and 1000 feet of Blue River frontage
  • View this property in our Interactive Map >


PP5b from Marges rock looking E-SE

Rock Creek

  • A lot of conservation values are packed into these 40 acres in the Lower Blue including Blue River frontage, the confluence of Rock Creek and Blue River, native spring, scenic views, wildlife habitat, and a variety of ecosystems.
  • Donated by the Hill family in 2013.
  • View this property in our Interactive Map >