Longtime South Routt rancher leaves lasting legacy
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Doug DeCosta grew his business from the ground up. He was always there to plow his neighbors’ driveways in winter and loved playing his guitar.
“He loves his music, and he loves being a part of the community, especially when he got to play his music for the community — that was always one of his big highlights being able to play on the third of July for the town of Yampa,” said his son Johnny DeCosta, who is the head coach of the Soroco High School football team. “He loved that time; he loved being there and sharing his gifts with everyone.”
Earlier this week, Doug DeCosta’s family and friends remembered the man as a good husband, a proud father and a valuable member of the community. Doug died at the age of 72, after a short battle with medical complications triggered by COVID-19. It was the first coronavirus-related death outside of a nursing home in Routt County.
“He was a hard worker. He built up a business pretty much from nothing, and I just love and respect him for what he taught me — lessons on working hard and what it takes to just be a man,” Johnny said.
Doug’s daughter Lea DeCosta, who lives in Roanoke, Virginia, said her father loved living in the mountains.
“It was always his dream to live on a ranch in the mountains by a stream, and he found a way to make that happen and to raise three kids in Yampa,” Lea said. “He instilled in us the importance of hard work and all the kind of small town values that are becoming more and more difficult to find these days.”
Doug grew up in California, and after high school, he spent time at San Jose State, UCLA and Berkeley before setting out on an adventure. He came to Colorado with a hunger for the ranching lifestyle.
“I think that he sort of held on to the legacy of those old ranchers,” Lea said. “He really held on to that sort of old-fashioned, small-ranch lifestyle that is South Routt.”
Doug arrived in Colorado in the late 1970s and, by 1977, had found his way to South Routt where he was working as a carpenter. He met his wife, Claudia, shortly after arriving in the area and began a new journey after the two were married Jan. 22, 1977, at the Little White Church in Yampa. The two were married for 43 years.
“We knew him when he first visited the county, and he was just a young wild old kid from the California area,” said longtime friend and next door neighbor Jerry Schulnus. “He was a wanderer when he came here, and he just liked the ranch lifestyle and admired the freedom we all enjoyed.”
Doug purchased Bill Redmond’s ranch that same year and quickly realized that it was going to be hard to make a living raising cattle on the 98-acre ranch that supported just 15 pairs. To make ends meet, Doug continued to work as a carpenter, often traveling to construction projects in nearby communities.
“He did construction, so every single morning, I remember him leaving early and not coming home until late at night,” Doug’s daughter Annie Porteus recalls.
Annie said her father grew tired of the travel, and in 1985, decided to take a swing at brokering hay through his new business, the Colorado Hay Company. Claudia worked as the bookkeeper.
“He did sell his own hay, but the majority of his business was going out and talking to people who grew really good Timothy hay, which is a cool mountain grass that fancy horse people love,” Annie said. “So, he’d make the contacts and then broker the deal.”
His family said he loved everything about hay, and the job was a great fit that complemented his passion for agriculture.
In addition to running the Colorado Hay Co., Doug co-founded the Colorado Hay and Forage Association and served as president from 1988 to 1994. He also was an active member of the National Hay Association.
As business grew, the Colorado Hay Co. shipped hay to ranches across the country, high profile race tracks, like Churchill Downs, pet food processors, an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee and for elephants at the Denver Zoo.
In 2015, the Yampa-based company supplied the alfalfa fed to American Pharaoh during the racing horse’s Triple Crown run, which was one of Doug’s proudest moments, according to family members.
“He started that company from scratch,” Annie said. “Other than his kids, that was pretty much his whole life.”
Annie said her father was a huge advocate for agriculture, and the life he led reflected that passion. Annie said her father passed along his love of ranching to her when she was younger.
“He saw a little girl who just loved horses, and he made sure that I always had horses and the hay to feed them,” Annie said. “I remember the first horse he bought me. His name was Rooster, and he spent more on that horse than he did on my sister’s first car.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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