Community Agriculture Alliance: How have you benefited from Routt County’s PDR Program?

Taylor Drexler
For the Steamboat Pilot & Today
The Yampa River flows through Wolf Mountain Ranch just east of Hayden. The 487-acre ranch is under a conservation easement monitored by the Nature Conservancy and made possible by Routt County’s Purchase of Development Rights program.
Nature Conservancy/Courtesy photo

It’s a fall day in the Rockies and you’re making the descent down Rabbit Ears pass into the Yampa Valley. The landscape is intact and seemingly endless—farm and ranchland dot the valley floor, and the healthy Yampa River meanders West. You reach the base of the pass and catch sight of Emerald Mountain, adorned in shades of autumn red, gold and green. Little did you know, you’ve just experienced the magic of Routt County’s Purchase of Development Rights program. 

Since 1996, the PDR program has permanently protected more than 56,000 acres of wildlife habitat, water resources, agricultural land and recreational opportunities. This invaluable program has supported our community for over 25 years, and it’s now up to Routt County voters to reauthorize it through ballot measure 1A on Nov. 8. Measure 1A does not increase taxes, it maintains program funding from an existing 1.5 mill property tax.

PDR is a land protection tool in which a property’s development rights are purchased from willing landowners. In exchange, the landowner grants a perpetual conservation easement on the property, thereby permanently protecting it from future development. This tool offers landowners an important alternative to selling their land and keeps working lands in production.

As the Yampa Valley’s population continues to grow, the continuation of the PDR program becomes increasingly important as a tool to safeguard our natural resources from development and maintain the agricultural heritage of our communities.

In 2011, PDR funding helped fourth-generation ranchers Keith and Shelley Pankey conserve their 630-acre cattle ranch west of Hayden. With this transaction, the Pankey’s permanently protected over a mile of Elkhead Creek, including vital habitat for bald eagle, sandhill crane, elk and mule deer. “All we want to do is stay here, keep ranching, continue taking good care of this land, and give our kids the chance to do the same,” shared the Pankeys.

A number of producers who distribute their products through the Community Agriculture Alliance have also used PDR funds to conserve their land and ensure local food production for future generations. You can find products from ranches like Trout Creek Meats, Moon Hill Dairy, Sand Mountain Cattle Company, and Mystic Hills Farmstead on the shelves at CAA.

If you’re a hunter, angler, hiker or biker, you’ve likely experienced first-hand the benefits of PDR’s conservation efforts. In North Routt County’s Elk River Valley, there is now over 11,000 acres of land under permanent protection thanks to a number of local landowners and PDR funding — including more than 12 miles of the Elk River and important wildlife habitat.  

The Oak Creek Mountain Park in South Routt County was born through another partnership between landowners Russ and Clay Garrity, the town of Oak Creek, and PDR funding. Today, this 140-acre park is home to a diverse array of wildlife and is enjoyed year-round by thousands of hikers, bikers, runners, skiers and horseback riders.

Whether you’ve experienced the Yampa Valley’s incredible recreation opportunities, open spaces, or local food production, you have benefitted from Routt County’s PDR program. Now, we have the opportunity—and responsibility—to stand together and continue this conservation legacy by voting “yes” on measure 1A this Nov. 8.

In addition to voting, visit to get involved and help spread the word. 

This column was provided by Taylor Drexler for the Yes for Water, Wildlife and Working Ranches Campaign Committee

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