Our view: New stewards of the land | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: New stewards of the land

New stewards of the land

At issue: Land utilization in Northwest Colorado is evolving as historic ranches are passed to new owners, some of whom wish to develop them in nontraditional ways

Our view: In most cases, these new owners are preserving the rural character of the land using private dollars, which, in our opinion, is a service to the county

Last week, the Routt County Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit for additional recreational facilities at Green Creek Ranch, a 1,500-acre property upstream from Lake Catamount on the Yampa River formerly owned and operated by Bob and Elaine Gay.

The ranch was sold last year for $25 million to Bruce Grewcock, CEO and president of Kiewit Corp, who — though he plans to continue agricultural operations there — also has a number of improvements in mind for the sprawling property.

According to ranch manager Bruce Enever, these include improving the trout habitat on the section of the Yampa that runs through the ranch, enhancing wildlife habitat in forested areas east of the river, creating pads and hookups for two RVs near the old ranch house, converting the house, itself, into a museum, building a hunting yurt and constructing a new shop.

Grewcock also plans to build a ranch manager’s residence, as well as improve ATV trails on the property.

These planned improvements, coupled with the fact that 900 acres of the ranch are under a conservation easement held by the Yampa Valley Land Trust, are the reason Grewcock and Enever were required to approach planning commissioners to secure the permit.

The sole dissenting vote on the issue came from Commissioner Troy Brookshire, who favored the plan but questioned why the county would require Grewcock to negotiate the costly and cumbersome permit process in the first place.

“… when we’re talking about the owner of a 1,500-acre ranch having to come in and get a permit for these uses, I think we’ve gone way above our typical review of private uses on private land,” Brookshire said.

Several members of the public who attended the meeting agreed with Brookshire, as do we.

But apart from the question of whether to require a permit, the fact remains that the valley is changing, and it’s going to continue to change.

Green Creek Ranch is not the first ranching property in the Yampa Valley to undergo an evolution of utilization under the stewardship of new owners. Another example is Windwalker Ranch, historically a cattle operation which, under new ownership and, with county approval, is building a private lodge, three cabins, tennis and basketball courts and a nine-hole golf course.

The fact is, the valley is changing, growing and evolving, and as more and more ranch lands pass from the old generation to the new, we are apt to see more and more development proposals such as Green Creek and Windwalker.

And, in our opinion, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The majority of conservation easements in Colorado were established for the purpose of protecting working farms and ranches and preserving wildlife habitat and scenic views from public roads or nearby public land.

From what we can see, this is precisely what Routt County taxpayers have indicated they want, and it is precisely what developers such as Bruce Grewcock are trying to do. And while it might be easy to cast judgment upon wealthy “outsiders” who are purchasing and developing these parcels, why would we? They are actually doing us all a great service by investing their own money — not taxpayer dollars — into the preservation and enhancement of the visual vistas that are a big part of what makes our community unique.

The valley is changing, and it’s going to continue to change; to be sure, golf courses, hunting yurts and private lodges are different uses, but they’re not detrimental, and in many cases, they’re actually beneficial.

One of the things that makes Steamboat unique is our commitment to the preservation of the land, and, in our opinion, these new stewards of the land are taking that commitment seriously.

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