Eagle County is a farmers’ favorite
EAGLE COUNTY – Longtime rancher Loyd Gerard would be the first to tell you how great it is to live here. But even he was a little surprised when Progressive Farmer, a national farming magazine, named Eagle County as the 9th best rural community in the country. After all, any talk around here about Eagle County’s ranching community has usually been about its continual demise.”I think Eagle County could be one of the nicest places to live,” Gerard said. “But ranching, well, it’s become a thing of the past.”The magazine’s story, which appears in this month’s issue, ranks rural communities on their overall quality of life, not necessarily on the viability of local farms, said Jamie Cole, the magazine’s creative editor. Still, Eagle County has been the magazine’s most controversial pick among loyal readers, Cole said.”From the outside, if you really haven’t researched it, it’s touristy,” Cole said. “It’s a place where the rich and famous play.”What Progressive Farmer saw in Eagle County, however, was a place that continues to attract city dwellers searching for a different sort of life and a continual commitment to agricultural roots, Cole said. “Ranches are being sold for golf courses, but some longtime families are comfortable here and don’t plan on going anywhere,” the magazine’s story says.
How they did itIt’s no secret that there is a growing trend of urbanites fleeing their cities in search of quieter, slower, more family-friendly rural areas. That trend prompted Progressive Farmer, a magazine that has been around since about 1886, to expand their focus from just farming to the rural lifestyle, Cole said. Thus, the inspiration for the “Best Places to Live” story and Eagle County’s ranking.Progressive Farmer hired real estate research firm, OnBoard LLC, to examine 600 rural communities across the country, said Jonathan Bednarsh, a researcher for the firm. The study looked at things like the quality of local schools, crime rates, availability of health care, clean air and water, and population growth. Then, the staff at Progressive Farmer took a look at the top 100 and applied their own criteria to establish a final ranking, Cole said.Cole has never been to Eagle County, but the magazine has editors who live in the West. The publication’s entire editorial board voted on the ranking, he said.One of the magazine’s staffers contacted Jenny Wood before the February issue came out to ask her why she enjoys living here.”He was mostly interested in what it used to be like,” said Wood, a 4-H extension agent who lives on a Gypsum ranch that has been in her family for years. “It used to be agricultural up and down the valley,” she said, explaining how the farmers of yesteryear grew potatoes and raised cattle. Gypsum even used to have a major shipping ground for cattle.”A lot of the ranches have sold now for subdivisions,” Wood said.
As far as lifestyle goes, Wood understands why Eagle County would be a top pick.”You still have a hometown environment because a lot of people here have lived here for many years,” she said. “It still has that small town feeling and atmosphere, and it’s a beautiful place, too.”Future for ranching?The article also acknowledges Eagle County’s reputation as a prime place to grow property values, not farm crops. On land prices: “Around here, if you have to ask you probably can’t afford any.”But unlike other rural areas, many of which serve as “bedroom communities” for cities, Eagle County hasn’t given up on its ranching heritage, Cole said. Gerard agrees, to some extent. Eagle County has made strides in encouraging that tradition by setting aside money to build a new livestock pavilion at the Eagle County Fairgrounds. The county also has been supportive of the local 4-H program, which is growing in membership, Gerard said.The towns – Gypsum in particular – could do more, he said. He pointed to the town of Gypsum’s decision to allow a developer to build a golf course on ranchland south of town.”We’re being crowded around,” Gerard said. “They want to limit the speed limits. They move roads every which direction. It makes it difficult, if not possible, to raise livestock.”Eagle County is a good place to have horses, but ranching in Eagle County is going away, Gerard said. “The cattle industry and sheep industry will be fazed out in the next couple of years,” he said.
Growth and publicityCole expects some towns will relish the distinction of being deemed a great place to live by a national magazine. Real estate agents may consider it a great marketing tool, he said.Others may not need the help. A county commissioner for one of the top 10 towns listed noted that growth already is a problem for his community.Still, “I don’t think a list from a farming magazine is going to make this place explode in population,” Cole said. Cole hopes leaders of towns listed in the article instead take to heart the reasons for the top ranking.”I hope they think about the growth issue a little bit more,” he said. “And why people are moving to these places to begin with is for a certain lifestyle.”Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado