True West Aerial Co. recently provided aerial support to Aspen Valley Land Trust (AVLT) through a series of highly coordinated flights around the Aspen area. These low level flights were conducted in order to help fulfill the monitoring of numerous properties on which AVLT holds conservation easements. AVLT is based out of Carbondale, Colorado and works to conserve unique ranch lands and open spaces throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and surrounding region.

The recent flights were flown and coordinated with Connor Coleman, Stewardship Director for AVLT. Here’s what Connor had to say about his experience: “There is truly no better way to experience the grandeur of the Rocky Mountain West than from the vantage of a small aircraft, and in my experience there is no better group to take you to the skies than True West Aerial. With over 170 conservation properties on the Western Slope of Colorado ranging from 5,200 feet in the high desert up to 10,500 in the subalpine forests Aspen Valley Land Trust has the responsibility of monitoring each property annually and through their services True West Aerial helps us to ensure that these lands are protected – forever. From planning to flights to post-flight business Mr. Carter runs a solid operation and AVLT anticipates working with True West Aerial well into the future.”

Land trusts like AVLT will accept a conservation easement on a property that has special significance for the purpose of managing its stewardship and overseeing its protection from development, subdivision, and environmental degradation. Every year the land trust will go afield, either on the ground or by air, to check up on the properties they hold conservation easements for. The main objective of these monitoring missions is to keep a working knowledge of what new or continuous impacts may be relevant around and on a conserved property, and also to make sure that the property is in accordance with the stipulations of the conservation easement that is in place. This includes checking for things like newly built structures in un-authorized areas, mining or excavation activity, timber harvesting, or over-grazing of livestock. If something looks out of the ordinary, a follow-up will be made with a landowner. The aerial perspective is a very valuable tool for gaining an overall analysis of what’s happening on the ground.

AVLT-15.2This year Aspen Valley Land Trust wanted to monitor around 110 individual properties by air. With this high volume of flights the region was split into to areas, one east and one west. We flew each area on a separate flight. Operating out of the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport we were able to avoid the hustle of the larger Aspen airport and also have a more central base as it related to the proximity of the flying region. The first flight began over the valley floor and eventually made its way up the eastern bench and over Basalt Mountain to Ruedi Reservoir, and down the Frying Pan River drainage. The second flight continued over the mountainous terrain on the west side of the Roaring Fork Valley and south through the tight walls of Crystal River canyon to the high alpine town of Marble. What True West Aerial monitored in just a couple of hours would have taken AVLT days or even weeks to accomplish on the ground.

AVLT-15.5True West Aerial is uniquely qualified to assist land trusts all over the western US with taking their stewardship practices to the next level. What makes True West different is its totally collaborative and customized approach to building a more streamlined and efficient aerial monitoring program. True West is also modernizing conservation flying by using industry leading equipment and cutting edge technology. The Cessna 185 aircraft is specially outfitted for aerial surveying and operations at high altitude and in mountainous terrain. True West utilizes a tablet with GIS software while in-flight that gives a live view of the aircraft’s position and a moving map identifying properties and sites to be monitored on the ground. This software also allows True West to produce a monitoring report and integrate with an organization’s internal records system. Lastly, True West Aerial has a top of the line camera to capture hi-resolution and geo-referenced images for use in the monitoring report.

These collaborative projects work so well because True West Aerial shares common values in a modern approach to land stewardship and a common goal of conserving the unique landscapes and legacy of the West.

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Photography Courtesy of Aspen Valley Land Trust.