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PLAN Jeffco celebrates legacy of land preservation

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What better way to celebrate one’s 45th birthday than with bird watching, history tours and biodiversity hikes?

PLAN Jeffco, a nonprofit that advocates for land conservation, celebrated 45 years of achievements during an outdoor celebration Aug. 29 at the Lookout Mountain Nature Center. More than 150 PLAN Jeffco members, Jeffco Open Space volunteers and area residents attended the festivities.

According to Michelle Poolet, PLAN Jeffco’s event coordinator, the organization got its start in 1972 when it authored the Open Space Resolution ballot initiative, which was later passed, and used a 0.05 percent sales tax throughout the county to establish the Jeffco Open Space program.

“People were concerned about the rate of development, even back then,” Poolet said. “They wanted to preserve large tracts of land. ... It’s amazing to think that 56,000 acres of preserved parks started with a living room full of people meeting because they were concerned about development.”

The PLAN Jeffco members, especially its board of directors, have a wide range of expertise, and Poolet said it’s important for the county to have an interested citizens’ advisory committee.

“We found it purposeful to hang around,” she said of PLAN Jeffco’s role after the Open Space Resolution was passed. “The symbiosis between (PLAN Jeffco and the county) seems to work really well.”

John Litz, vice president and treasurer for PLAN Jeffco, said in the past, the organization had focused on acquiring land along Turkey, Bear and Clear creeks. Now, however, Jeffco Open Space has been actively asking property owners in these areas whether they’d like to sell their land.

Thus, PLAN Jeffco doesn’t have as many challenging tasks as it once did, he noted, saying, “So, instead of pushing big boulders, now we’re pushing little ones.”

He said the organization likely will have a conference on archaeology soon.

After taking a short bird-watching hike with about two dozen other celebration attendees, Darrell and Leslie Sweet of Arvada said they heard about the event through the JCOS volunteer e-mail list. Although they had never heard of PLAN Jeffco before, they appreciated all the conservation and preservation work the organization has done alongside JCOS.

The couple moved to Arvada about a year ago from Lenexa, Kan., and wanted to get involved as JCOS volunteers.

The Sweets said they liked how the parks kept things open and allowed the wildlife to roam. They especially like seeing the elk.

“It’s amazing to see what all has been preserved — especially coming from an area where we didn’t have this,” Darrell said, gesturing to the mountainous landscape surrounding the nature center.