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The Central Colorado Conservancy marked 10 years as a regional conservation organization Nov. 7 by announcing three more ambitious projects for the future and introducing a new Executive Director.

The Conservancy’s new Executive Director, Adam Beh, was introduced, and participants also honored the Conservationist of the Year, Jim Aragon and heard former Governor Bill Ritter address the importance of local conservation efforts in our current political climate.

Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter was the keynote speaker at the Central Colorado Conservancy fundraiser on Nov. 7. Photo by Dan Smith.

The largest turnout in history for this event also marked the third time it has been held  at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds. The event raised nearly $30,000 in funding from pledges as well as further funding from a silent auction and an auction of art donated by local artists.

Jim Aragon, veteran Area Wildlife Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, was awarded the 2019 Central Colorado Conservationist of the Year.

Aragon has worked the last 16 years as Wildlife Manager in Salida and has been a partner in the Conservancy’s work with scientific data, >funding, statewide and local influence, and landowner relationships.

Programs that he manages or influences have had major impacts on the community’s and Conservancy’s successful land and water conservation and restoration projects, Williams noted.

“In our tenth year honoring the Central Colorado Conservationist of the Year, we are excited to recognize Jim Aragon as a community hero,” said Board President Cindy Williams.

Veteran Wildlife Manager Jim Aragon of the Department of Parks and Wildlife – Conservationist of the Year.

“He has worked tirelessly over 35 years to ensure that wildlife – from eagle to elk and badger to bear – so valued by the community are thriving,” added Williams. Protecting habitat, providing water, ensuring protection… Jim has made a lasting difference.”

“I was surprised by the award,” Aragon said. “It’s not just for me, but for the agency I work for,” he added, acknowledging that the local CPW team has been recognized as one of the premier wildlife organizations in the country. “I have great fellow employees as well as landowners. That always makes it easier.”

“Jim Aragon has been a strong and reliable voice for fish and wildlife for 35 years,” said Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt.

Those who know him say that Aragon is soft-spoken and self-effacing, a careful listener and adept at finding balance among competing interests. However, when he feels strongly about a considered course of action, they say, he will dig in his heels and demand what is best for our natural resources.

“This has been true of protecting and extending public access for fishing and hunting, as well as protecting wildlife and critical habitat from excessive public access. Jim operates from a principle-based perspective and both the general public and other agencies always know where they stand with him,” added Felt. “Conduct like Jim’s should be recognized more often.”

Former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s keynote address was “Community and Conservation: The Importance of Local Conservation in the Current Political Climate.”

Ritter said that given the current partisan nature of national and state politics currently, the most rewarding conservation efforts must come from local conservation-minded individuals who can put aside differences and work together starting with ‘common areas of agreement.’

As an example, said Ritter Great Outdoors Colorado, funded by state lottery funds, is an example of the public resolving to devote major funding for conservation and preservation.

He added that population growth estimates for Colorado, even over the next decade, will create tensions. Even among people in the room, he said, there were tensions among those representing different sectors.

“You have to resolve those tensions, and the best way to resolve those tensions is thinking about our commonality, and to start with the places where we agree,” said Ritter.

New Conservancy Executive Director Adam Beh.

Adam Beh, who replaces longtime leader Andrew Mackie, came from the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, where he was Chief Conservation Officer responsible for much of the group’s land stewardship and community outreach.

In his address, Beh said while only in the community a couple of weeks, he was impressed with the organization’s strong community connection and that he was enthusiastic about getting to know the area and working with staff in directing the organization.

Conservancy staff, including Williams, Conservation Director Lucy Waldo and Hands for Lands leader Buffy Lenth spoke about the Conservancy’s accomplishments over the past year and decade. Some of that work has involved working in partnership with area agencies, including the Forest Service and Parks and Wildlife.

Conservancy Board President Cindy Williams.

Williams unveiled the Conservancy’s newest and largest land conservation project – Forever Chaffee County – a multi-faceted program designed to focus on protecting the views, the Browns Canyon experience, productive lands and wildlife that the organization feels are important to local quality of life.

Specifically, Forever Chaffee County will seek to preserve lands with three conservation easements, including the Centerville 650-acre conservation easement in Nathrop the Conservancy spearheaded with local developer Jeff Ince; the nearby Arrowpoint Cattle easement of 600 acres and connecting with what’s termed the Brown’s Canyon Connection of about 750 acres that could link into a continuous parcel from U.S. 285 to the national monument and the Arkansas River.

For more information on the Conservancy, visit