Ranch tour on June 24 shows Eagle County’s changing agricultural heritage | VailDaily.com

Ranch tour on June 24 shows Eagle County’s changing agricultural heritage

A ranch crew mows hay on the William Mayer ranch, circa 1910-1920. The hay meadow is now the Eagle Ranch subdivision on the south end of Eagle, and is part of this year's Eagle Valley Land Trust ranch tour.
Courtesy of Eagle County Historical Society and Eagle Valley Library District |

If You Go ...

What: Eagle Valley Land Trust’s annual ranch tour

When: Saturday, June 24.

Where: You’ll tour two iconic Eagle County ranches, the Haymeadow Ranch near Eagle and the Gates Ranch on Derby Mesa above Burns.

Cost: $100 per person for early registration; $110 after June 18. Scholarships are available.

More information: The Eagle Valley Land Trust’s goal is to preserve the community’s character, one acre at a time. The local conservation organization has been around for 30 years. Buy tickets by calling 970-748-7654, emailing admin@evlt.org or online at evlt.org.

Tour schedule

8:30 a.m. — Registration at the Eagle County fairgrounds parking lot, Eagle

9 a.m. — Buses depart

9:30 to 11 a.m. — Haymeadow Ranch, with a tour of the 1,500-acre Hardscrabble Ranch, proposed as Eagle County’s latest open space project.

Noon to 2 p.m. — Gates Ranch and lunch

4 p.m. — Return to Eagle

EAGLE — The Eagle Valley Land Trust’s annual ranch tour puts you on the spot where many of our local stories started, where history was made.

This year, it’s the iconic Gates Ranch above Burns and Haymeadow Ranch south of Eagle in the Brush Creek Valley.

“They’re two amazing ranches with very different stories,” said Jim Daus, executive director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust.

Ranch land, ranch man

Agriculture, plus some mining around Gilman and Red Cliff, drove Eagle County’s economy from the 1880s to the early 1960s.

That Haymeadow Ranch is ground zero for some of Eagle County’s agriculture heritage, as it was the first cattle introduced on Brush Creek in November 1880, writes Kathy Heicher, with the Eagle County Historical Society.

Financier John Love bankrolled the operation, and George Wilkinson and Webb Frost were the cowboys. They moved 400 head of cattle from Park County to the Brush Creek Valley, herding the cattle into the valley during a snowstorm.

One of two things happened.

1. Either those 400 head were reduced to 30 by the following spring because Love assumed the wind would blow the snow off the ground, as it did in Park County, and their cattle could graze all winter,

2. Or much of the herd roamed to parts unknown, or parts between Brush Creek and Dotero. If that’s the case, then only one bovine was lost when it drowned in the river.

As for Wilkinson and Frost, they spent the winter in a cabin on Brush Creek. Wilkinson was quite the cattleman and filed the first homestead patent in 1890 on what is now the Haymeadow development.

‘Farming is sure’

An Eagle County Chamber of Commerce-style booklet from the time, titled “The Empire of the Eagle: A Descriptive History of a Great County, 1899,” paints an enthusiastic picture, but might embellish a little, Heicher writes.

That booklet has this to say:

“Cultivation of land is brought to a high state of perfection by irrigation, the only method used in farming. There is no danger of a dearth of water, as the county, from end to end, boasts of crystal streams innumerable, fed by the perpetual banks of snow on our cloud-capped peaks. Hay, oats, rye, barley and vegetables of all descriptions are raised in abundance … farming is sure. Crop failures are unknown, all the latest farming machinery is in use, crops bring good prices …”

Local ranchers and farmers have a more bemused perspective, saying things such as: “The difference between ranching and gambling is that when you’re gambling, you know right away that you’ve lost your money. When you’re ranching, it can take a year to know that.”

That Haymeadow Ranch will soon be home to 800 homes as part of Eagle’s Haymeadow neighborhood.

If you want to see what Love, Wilkinson and Frost saw in 1880 and experience those stories, you’d better get at it.

A bike trail runs through it

Scott Schlosser is another story. He’s a Boston-bred guy who followed Horace Greeley’s best advice, “Go west, young man.” Schlosser managed the Colorado River Ranch for 10 years and now manages the Haymeadow Ranch south of Eagle.

And Terry Porter, who runs his family ranching and commercial hay operations, will tell you how four generations have scrambled to keep the family ranch running. Porter might tell you about the collisions between ranching and residential development, like the time a guy called up hollering and threatening to sue because he’d trespassed and driven his truck across one of Porter’s hay fields and gotten his truck stuck in the mud because there was “too much water” on that field.

“This is a unique opportunity for people to get a look at land they don’t normally get to see,” Daus said.

You can get close on the Haymaker mountain bike trail, but not like this, Daus said.

“This may be your only chance to get on this land while it’s still in this state,” Daus said. “You might enjoy looking at it, but it won’t look like this for much longer.”

When you’ve learned a bunch of wonderful stuff about the Haymeadow Ranch, you’ll take a tour of the neighboring Hardscrabble Ranch, 1,500 acres at the top of the wish list for local open space advocates.

Then you’ll take a ride up to Derby Mesa above Burns for a tour of the iconic Gates Ranch, homesteaded in the 1880s. It’s a legacy ranch being run by Bud and Marge Gates’ children and grandchildren.

Most people don’t really understand ranching history or operations, Daus said.

“There are some ranchers who want to tell their story and educate people about what ranching really looks like,” Daus said. “By bringing these two groups together, the Eagle Valley Land Trust will help achieve these goals.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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