County approves $400K to preserve South Routt ranch
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Routt County Board of Commissioners during a meeting Tuesday approved spending $440,000 to protect a ranch in South Routt.
The Starbuck Ranch, near the town of Yampa, has both environmental and agricultural significance, according to Claire Sollars, chair of the Protection of Development Rights program overseeing the project. It provides important habitat for big game, such as elk, deer and sage grouse. A portion of the Bear River runs through the ranch, which supports numerous species of fish and other riparian wildlife.
Its sweeping meadows, highland sagebrush and smatterings of aspen trees also provide rural character valued by many residents and visitors, Sollars added.
From an agricultural standpoint, the ranch produces 400 tons of hay each year and provides summer grazing for cattle, according to Sollars.
Since 2018, the Clyncke family who owns the ranch has been trying to conserve the land to prevent it from future development. The family bought the property in 1985, according to county documents. As Anne Clynke explained during the meeting, the previous owners subdivided the land into plots amid financial hardship, two plots of which were sold. Her family bought the ranch to protect the remaining land, about 750 acres.
“We want to keep it a family ranch,” Clynke said, adding that her son has expressed an interest in taking it over in the future.
The total cost of the easement is valued at $860,000, according to county documents. The Clyncke family plans to contribute the rest of the cost.
Commissioner Doug Monger applauded the easement as a way to preserve “prime agriculture and community land” and natural habitat. He cited a study discussed at an online symposium last week, which points to human development as a primary cause for a decades-long decline in elk populations. Conservation projects such as this, he said, are ways to prevent open space from being overrun with subdivisions.
Commissioner Tim Corrigan, a South Routt resident, voiced similar support for the project. He often bikes on roads that overlook the ranch and appreciates its rural character.
“It would be a real tragedy to see that subdivided up into as many 20, 35-acre parcels,” Corrigan said.
Megan Knott, director of stewardship at Colorado Cattleman’s Agricultural Land Trust, said it is one of her favorite projects she has worked on. She expects the deal to close around June 24, with an absolute deadline of June 30.
The Purchase of Development Rights program has been in place since 1997. Its mission is to preserve land and concentrate development in municipalities. Since its founding, the program has helped fund the conservation of more than 50,000 acres in the county, according to the program’s website.
A local tax, which was renewed in 2005 for another 20 years, provides funding for the program.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program’s advisory board is asking the commissioners to consider delaying the 2020 grant cycle until next year. As Sollars explained, the crisis has made it difficult to conduct the necessary application reviews, putting some applications in jeopardy.
The commissioners plan to consider delaying the grant cycle at their meeting next Tuesday, June 23.
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