AURORA, Colo. -- The Trust for Public Land and Buckley Air Force Base announced today that 124 acres adjacent to the base have been permanently protected from development, the first of a series of land conservation efforts designed to buffer the base from encroaching development and create a protected corridor for parks, trails and wildlife habitat around the facility.
The 124-acre property, which is located on the east side of Buckley AFB between the base and E-470, is the first conservation land acquisition project completed as part of the Buckley AFB Compatible Use Buffer Project. Through this project, key lands surrounding the base will be acquired by The Trust for Public Land from willing sellers to combat encroaching commercial development by creating an open space buffer area.
"The Trust for Public Land is proud to work with the Air Force, the Colorado Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Arapahoe County and Aurora to bring this project to fruition," said Hillary Merritt The Trust for Public Land project manager. "The buffer project is a win-win-win project for the local community. The project will help secure the future of the base and its contribution to the local economy. It will create great recreational amenities, including a future trail that links Signature Park on the southeast side of the base to the future Triple Creek Greenway on the northeast side. And, the project will preserve and connect wildlife habitat in this rapidly growing part of the metro area."
Limiting development immediately adjacent to the base's fence line will ensure military operations and training can continue without impacting local residents. Additionally, buffering the base will help ensure that the base and its $1 billion annual economic impact will continue as an important driver of the region's economy.
"The REPI effort builds a better Buckley AFB!" said Col John Wagner, installation commander, and commander, 460th Space Wing, Buckley AFB, Colorado. "This is key to the future of the base and the continued viability and of our air and space missions. With it, our aircraft will continue to fly and our ground stations will talk to our spacecraft far into the future, and we'll have a recreational trail system around the installation that supports our community."
The property is now owned by the City of Aurora, except for 10 acres which was transferred to Buckley AFB and will be included in the base's runway clear zone. A conservation easement that permanently precludes development is held by Arapahoe County and the United States. With the protection of this property, Buckley AFB finally controls the last privately owned segment of the runway clear zone, an area off-limits to development to ensure the safety of aircraft taking off and landing at the base.
"I'm so proud of the teamwork that is in place to make this happen," Wagner said. "From our Civil Engineering squadron's work to our partnerships with the state, county, city, and the Trust for Public Land along with our continued teamwork with the Colorado Adjutant General and the National Guard. These partnerships are truly the cornerstone to getting this project completed and it being rated as "Exceptional" by the Office of the Secretary of Defense."
Lands protected through the buffer project will allow for the creation of new trails and provide a protected open space corridor that connects to surrounding parks and trails, including the future Triple Creek Greenway, a continuous 27-mile corridor stretching from the South Platte River in north Denver to the Aurora Reservoir and Arapahoe County Fairgrounds. This project also will protect and connect key wildlife habitat to ensure wildlife can move outside of the Buckley AFB boundary and access habitat along Sand, Coal and Senac Creeks. Furthermore, the buffer lands will be open to the public and provide access for wildlife viewers, walkers and cyclists to experience close-to-home recreation.
"Buckley Air Force Base is a huge economic power house for the city of Aurora and the state, and it's the reason that Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman are here," said Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan. "Protecting Buckley from encroachment issues is critical to military operations. In Aurora's case, we have been investing for decades to purchase over 1,000 acres amounting to about $24 million. I am so pleased that the Trust for Public Land, Buckley Air Force Base, the Colorado Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Arapahoe County and the City of Aurora have worked together to create this critical open space buffer, a huge step in a new round of actions designed to protect Buckley Air Force Base."
"Buckley Air Force Base is an important asset to the community, and we are proud to be part of the effort to preserve its viability," said Arapahoe County Commissioner Bill Holen, District 5. "Since 2012, Arapahoe County Open Spaces has expended nearly $2.5 million toward the acquisition of 275 acres of land adjacent to the base along the Triple Creek Corridor. Being part of the effort to protect the sustainability of the base while also increasing our trails and open space opportunities is exciting and rewarding."
Funding for this project came from the Department of Defense's Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) program, which protects land near military bases, as well as state funds granted to the Colorado Department of Military and Veterans Affairs for acquisitions buffering Buckley AFB.
"The Governor and the State of Colorado provided tremendous support for this project early on by contributing the first $5 million in state funds for land purchases that made this project a reality," said Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards, executive director of the Colorado Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and commander of the Colorado National Guard.
Urban and suburban encroachment has become increasingly problematic for military installations nationwide. Incompatible land uses - primarily residential developments - close to an installation's boundary interfere with training and other military operations. Usually, noise from the installation is the main concern for residential or commercial activity nearby.
"Buckley Air Force Base and Colorado's other military facilities are critical to our national security," Senator Michael Bennet said. "Conserving this land as a natural area ensures that Buckley has the buffers it needs to be a good neighbor and fulfill its missions. We're glad the Trust for Public Land and the Air Force have partnered to complete this important project."
The REPI Program is used to prevent encroachment on military missions, such as training, testing and operations by helping to remove or avoid land-use conflicts near military bases, such as Buckley AFB.
"The REPI program is critical to the future of Buckley Air Force Base," said U.S. Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO). "Accordingly I've made it one of my top priorities on the House Armed Services Committee and successfully increased funding for this program by $15 million dollars in last year's defense authorization bill. Support and partnership across all levels of government is equally crucial. The contributions made by the State of Colorado, Arapahoe County, and the City of Aurora toward the acquisition of these properties to protect the base from encroachment speak to our support for Buckley AFB."
Negotiations to acquire other properties adjacent to the base are on-going, according to The Trust for Public Land. Members of the buffer project partnership hope to announce additional land acquisitions in the months ahead.