Historic local ranch eyed for preservation
Vail, CO Colorado
BURNS – One of Eagle County’s historic ranches could remain undeveloped forever, if a fund-raising drive by the Eagle Valley Land Trust succeeds.
The Land Trust is spearheading a campaign to raise $3.65 million by Dec. 31 for purchase of a conservation easement on the scenic Gates Ranch at Burns in northwestern Eagle County.
The conservation easement is in effect the purchase of development rights. The property will remain on the county tax rolls as working ranch. The easement does not open the land up to the public; however, it does ensure that the property remains a working ranch forever.
Ranchers and farmers, who are often land-rich, but cash poor, are increasingly turning to conservation easements as a means of realizing some cash value from their land, while at the same time protecting a lifestyle that they love.
“How do you preserve something that you love so much?” asked Bud Gates, 78, a former county commissioner, “It’s the only place left (in the county) thats not developed.”
Five generations of the Gates family have ranched the land since it was homesteaded in 1893. Gates wants to pass down the ranch operation to his sons, Kip and Doug.
Land Trust Director Cindy Cohagen says a wildlife study shows the ranch land includes habitat for elk, mule deer, bear, and possibly lynx. The property, which is visible from the Colorado River Road, offers scenic views of the Flat Tops Wilderness, and includes a three-ace lake, numerous natural springs, wetlands and riparian areas.
Cohagen also notes that the conservation easement will preserve some of the countys agricultural heritage. Over the years the Gates family has often hosted visitors who want to see a working ranch.
“We’re trying to protect a way of life,” says Cohagen.
Kip Gates, notes that the family ranch is operated in “the cowboy way.” Some 200 head of cattle are run on the ranch. The Gates also run a guide and outfitting services. Horses are used to move the cattle, and the family lives off the land as much as possible.
“There’s lots of blood, sweat, and a lot of love that go into this,” said Doug Gates, “I’m a grandfather. I want my grandkids to see it like it is.”
The Land Trust is a private, nonprofit organization that has been involved in the protection of more than 9,000 acres of land locally. Typically, the deals are worked with a combination of public money and private funds.
The Land Trust last week made a formal application for $2.5 million from Eagle Countys open space fund. In 2002, Eagle County voters narrowly approved a property tax dedicated to open space acquisition. That tax expires in 2024.
Cohagen said the Land Trust will also seek a $600,000 grant from the states Great Outdoors Colorado program; and will apply for grants though other organizations, such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Private donations will also play a big role.
The private sector contributions started rolling in as soon as the Gates Ranch conservation project was announced at a Land Trust fundraising event Saturday night. Audience members bid $2,500 for the privilege of a horseback ride and a picnic on the ranch.
If the Gates conservation easement is secured, it will set a precedent. While a number of ranchers in neighboring Routt County have embraced conservation easements; Eagle Countys ranchers have been more wary of the
Cohagen says the Gates Ranch easement could very well be the “first pickle out of the jar” – meaning a success with this project could mean more to follow.
Gates family members say theyre braced for possible controversy. The countys $2 million contribution toward the Bair Ranch easement in 2004 generated plenty of controversy, and even some personal attacks against the ranchers. Critics protested that not all of the property was in Eagle County, and that the conservation easement did not allow public access to the land.
Cohagen notes that all of the Gates Ranch is in Eagle County.
“Uncontrolled public access is not possible on any working ranch,” she says.
Bud Gates says he would like to see some of his fellow ranchers pursue easements for their property.
“We’re proud. We want to preserve this for us, and for Eagle County. I’d like to see a lot more of that happen in this pristine area,” he says.
To help with the Gates Ranch Conservation Project, contact the Eagle Valley Land Trust at 524-08770; or visit the website at http://www.evlt.org.