GOCO commits almost $1M to conservation of Smith Rancho west of Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

GOCO commits almost $1M to conservation of Smith Rancho west of Steamboat

The hillsides of Smith Rancho in Routt County, west of Steamboat Springs, are lush in the early summer. Great Outdoors Colorado has committed $969,250 to the final of five conservation parcels comprising almost 17,000 acres.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Great Outdoors Colorado Board has awarded a $969,250 grant to the Nature Conservancy to help facilitate the conservation of 4,800 acres in the fifth and final phase of the sprawling Smith Rancho west of Steamboat Springs and north of Hayden, bringing the total number of acres protected in perpetuity on the ranch, where the Smith family raises sheep and cattle, to nearly 17,000.

The conservation of the ranch protects a migration route for the second-largest elk herd in the nation along with habitat for the threatened greater sage grouse, mule deer, mountain lion and black bear. Sportsmen and women also enjoy access to the ranch for hunting via Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Ranching for Wildlife program

The Nature Conservancy will hold and manage the conservation easement. TNC’s Yampa River Project Director  Geoff Blakeslee, who monitors the status of the easement agreement for his organization with field visits, said Wednesday the benefit of conserving Smith Rancho is amplified by its proximity to another large conservation ranch next door on Wolf Mountain.

“Summertime up there is lush and green; the wildlife is phenomenal,” Blakeslee said. “I’ve always been impressed with the way the Smiths manage the property. They run sheep and cattle, but even after it’s been grazed, you can hardly tell it’s been grazed.”

Blakeslee said ranch operator Brad Smith is managing the ranch for the future. Part of the ranch was burned in the Deep Creek Fire, but Smith viewed it as part of a natural process that would result in renewal of the land over time.

Evidence of Smith’s commitment to the landscape, Blakeslee said, is his unwillingness to modernize access roads.

“I’ve had to group and monitor previous easements, and there aren’t many roads up there,” he explained. “There’s one really little primitive road. You have to go really slow to get up there. Brad Smith wants it that way. He wants to keep it pristine.”

Great Outdoors Colorado funds for the latest easement came from its “open space grant program,” which funds public and private land conservation.

Routt County’s Purchase of Development Rights program, funded by a property tax approved by voters, as well as Colorado Parks and Wildlife, have a history of helping to conserve Smith Rancho.

To date, GOCO has invested $54.5 million in projects in Routt County and has conserved more than 62,000 acres of land there. GOCO funding has supported the Yampa River Core Trail and Emerald Mountain in Steamboat Springs, the Routt County Fairgrounds, and all three nearby state parks, among other projects.

GOCO invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1.

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