Event allows local ranching families to tell their story | VailDaily.com

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Event allows local ranching families to tell their story

It is hard to imagine the 24-7 schedule of the hard-working ranching families all around us. Their days are punctuated by searing heat, blue skies, blizzards, downpours, good hay cuttings, long days in the saddle and fresh food on the table. Many of these ranchers are looking to future generations to carry on their important work of providing our food and clothing. They need our understanding and support just as much as we need their products and desire their land to remain rural and picturesque.

Eagle Valley Land Trust, in consultation with Eagle County 4-H and with the cooperation of several enthusiastic local family ranchers, held a ranch tour Aug. 22 so that we could begin to understand what ranching really means in this modern world. The goals of the tour were to foster support for, and a better understanding of, ranching and the ranching heritage of our great community. Seventy-three people boarded two buses provided by Eagle County's ECO Transit department to tour three of our community's iconic working ranches.

Participants spent approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes at each ranch, and these ranching families shared their stories. The group heard about current projects and practices, soil and livestock health, and about irrigation systems and their quirks. Best of all, this group got to see some beautiful private ranches that most people will never get to see.

Lloyd Gerard hopes to pass his ranch in Gypsum along to his hard-working son, Clayton, and daughter, Lacy. They would be the fifth generation of Gerards to ranch this land. However, he struggles with making the operation profitable because the size of his ranch depends on being able to lease adjacent lands that are currently available to him, but on the market to be sold to developers who will terminate his leases. Lloyd and his family fielded questions of every kind from the participants. They ranged from, "How much of this work do you do on horseback?" to "How has nearby development changed your ability to irrigate your fields?"

Kendra and Keith Scott, of Eight Bar Ranch in Burns, work hard to steward their Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service permits properly. Their family has relied on these permits for decades and without them, they could no longer ranch. Their children, Kensie and Kurtis, hope to continue in their parents' footsteps. As a family, they work hard every day to give back to their community while also taking care of their livestock and land. They are living proof of the tenacity and toughness that their forefathers needed to settle the rugged West. Kendra had to walk out of the fields with a broken neck after falling from her horse six weeks ago. It required surgery to fuse three vertebrae. She still insisted on providing a top-notch lunch for the group and called in several friends to help make it happen, including longtime friend and caterer Jennifer Downs.

Cass and Old Dog Galloway, of Big Hat Alpaca Ranch in McCoy, breed these peaceful and friendly animals for their fleeces, which are used for yarn and other textiles in everyday use. Their focus is on high-quality breeding to produce the highest-quality fibers. Products from the ranch are available for sale at the alpaca store, 106 Broadway St. in Eagle. While it is hard work, they have fun. In an effort to educate people about their work, they engage visitors with scavenger hunts and information about these lovable creatures.

One of the great benefits was that people got to see a huge and absolutely stunning part of the county (the Colorado River Road and Burns Loop) that many had never seen before with its multi-colored hills, high mountain wilderness areas, green rivers, deep canyons and broad plateaus. Attendees also heard about various properties conserved by the land trust, including more than 5,000 acres of historic ranches. The tour stopped at the recently-opened Duck Pond open space and boat ramp along the Eagle River just east of Dotsero. The group also stopped briefly at the entrances of the Gates Ranch on Derby Mesa Loop and Horn Ranch in the red canyon between Wolcott and Eagle.

It is only a matter of time before real estate speculators will try to buy up our remaining ranches. The Eagle Valley Land Trust continues to invite our community's ranching families to consider the benefits of conserving their land in perpetuity when the time is right for them to do so. The land trust anticipates holding this tour again next year, so stay tuned.

Jim Daus is executive director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust.