Routt County says ‘yes’ to ultra private links at Windwalker Ranch
Steamboat Springs — After reaching the conclusion Tuesday night that allowing the 16 owners of Windwalker Ranch to build a narrow bridge over the Yampa River on their $17.65 million property to facilitate an exclusive nine-hole golf course could result in a net improvement in the habitat on the river banks, the County Commissioners voted unanimously to issue the required permits.
However, the commissioners felt a little squeamish at one proposed condition of approval, suggested by the applicants, that would have required the owners to spend no less than $100,000 to carry out riparian improvements along the river on the ranch about six miles south of Steamboat Springs. It wasn’t the environmental improvements that bothered the commissioners, but the mention of a dollar figure. Instead, they will require Windwalker to enter an agreement with Planning Director Chad Phillips and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to make the improvements.
In addition, the Windwalker owners will formally give up their right to build a second bridge over the Yampa to access a prospective 50-plus-acre home site that could have been reached no other way.
“I’ll support this,” Commissioner Cari Hermacinski said. “I’m a little disappointed that we’re at this point that the applicant has to give up so many rights they probably did have on their property. I agree that this is the type of development we want to see at a time when we’re losing ag land on the South Valley floor. Land preservation subdivisions, (which cluster homes in rural subdivisions) have been good, but LPS is still not ideal.”
The approval involved both a permit to build the golf course, which will achieve nine holes with the shared use of five greens and three fairways, plus a waterbody setback permit to build the bridge over the Yampa.
Planning Director Chad Phillips has steadfastly opposed the waterbody setback, saying county regulations prohibit issuance of a permit unless encroachment on a water body is unavoidable. However, attorney Bob Weiss, representing Windwalker, convinced the commissioners that the regulations also allowed them to permit encroachment on a waterbody if it would result in more benefit than if the encroachment had not taken place. He built his case on his clients’ willingness to forego the second bridge and to continue their ongoing improvements of the property, which has included rehabilitating irrigation ditches and continuing haying operations.
In addition to golf, the owners of the ranch, their families and guests only, enjoy trophy trout fishing, duck hunting, hiking and snowmobiling on the property that straddles the river where it issues out of Catamount Dam. Buildings on the ranch include a large residence, or lodge, and three cabins lacking kitchens. Local contractor Tom Fox, a spokesman for the owners, said that, thus far, no more than one ownership family and their guests have occupied the residential buildings at a time, and total usage has been for less than half of a calendar year.
Two members of the public stood up to speak in favor of the project and one expressed disapproval. Lisa Nutkin made the case that the valley doesn’t need another golf course.
“I don’t quite understand why these families can’t use the other four golf courses we have,” Nutkin said. “We’ve taken the entrance to the community and have golf course after golf course. I think we’re losing our ranching attitude and have done enough damage to the environment with trails and the ski area.”
Fox suggested to commissioners that as prime land on the valley floor has become increasingly costly, people, like the owners of Windwalker, who are willing to blend recreational opportunities with the continuance of traditional haying practices, may become the model for land management practices in the valley near Steamboat.
“Ranch land has become so expensive, there’s no way we can expect that people are going to make a living off a ranch — beef prices and hay prices are not that high,” Fox said. “All we can hope is that they are purchased by someone who can hold it together.”
Commissioner Tim Corrigan, who harvests hay on his land in South Routt, was intrigued.
“This has raised some really interesting questions — talking about land prices,” Corrigan said. “It may be that we have to change our outlook on ag land, because it may just not be feasible moving into the future, especially with applications on the South Valley floor. As (Commissioner) Doug (Monger) has said before, there aren’t very many cows out there (in the South Valley) anyway. We may be fighting a losing battle.”
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