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Land study to be updated

Value that residents, visitors put on ranch land will be studied

Susan Cunningham

It’s been more than 10 years since a study showed the high value that Routt County residents and visitors place on the area’s open ranchlands, which means it’s time for an update.

Routt County’s Extension Office has begun a second survey about the value of agricultural open space in the area. The first survey, which was completed in 1994, has played a key role in decisions to preserve such lands, Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow said.

“In the past, a lot of money and a lot of policy decisions have been made around the importance of agricultural open space,” Mucklow said.

According to the 1994 survey, more than nine in 10 visitors reported that ranch meadows and grassland with grazing cattle and horses added to the enjoyment of a Steamboat Springs summer vacation. When asked whether they might stop visiting Steamboat if ranch land open space continued to be developed, nearly five in 10 said they would see other resort areas.

People surveyed also said they thought keeping ranches as open space was important as a part of the economy, and not just because of looks, Mucklow said.

“We want to see if that still holds,” he said.

The first step of the survey update process is a questionnaire that recently was mailed to one in every 10 registered voters across the county, about 1,200 people. The surveys, which take about 20 minutes to complete, ask residents to describe the importance of agricultural open space.

Ranch open space is defined as privately owned lands that include hay meadows and pastures, birds and wildlife, grazing cattle and horses, corrals and ranch buildings and working ranch hands and cowboys.

The surveys are due back by the end of September, at which time the extension office will compile the data and send it to Colorado State University for an economic analysis. The final report should be released by the beginning of next year, Mucklow said.

This part of the study costs $5,000, which is being shared by the city of Steamboat Springs and the Routt County Extension Office.

The second part of the study also will cost $5,000 and involves interviewing visitors to learn how they value ranch open space. That part likely will begin next summer, Mucklow said.

When the first study was completed in 1994, it was one of the first to measure the value of open ranchlands, Mucklow said. Areas in Colorado and across the West have used this study as a template to learn how much residents and visitors value open ranchlands, he said.

— To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com


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