Third-generation family ranchland that serves as CSU outdoor classroom is on the market
A third-generation family ranch west of Milner that is a haven for wildlife is also serving as an outdoor classroom for Colorado State University ecology and forestry students.
“Anytime you get students out of the classroom and into the natural environment it’s a benefit,” said Bob Sturtevant, who teaches forestry at CSU and serves as the assistant ranch manager at Utterback Ranch. “You can talk about it all you want and show PowerPoints, but until they are out there identifying insects, flowers … That’s what gets them excited about natural resources, and they understand the complexity of natural resources.”
The 2,121-acre ranch is owned by Karin Utterback-Normann and her husband Ron Normann, who both have a history with CSU in Fort Collins as a graduate and former research employee, respectively.
Karin previously donated half of the ranch land to the university, where she earned a master’s degree in agricultural economics, agronomy and anthropology. Ron previously worked as a researcher in the winter wheat program at CSU.
The Utterback family ranch is on the market for $10.9 million, offered for sale jointly by the family and CSU, following the retired couple’s move to Grand Junction in late 2020.
The CSU Research Foundation currently is managing the entire ranch, and whether part of the ranch may be able to remain a living classroom will be up to the eventual new ownership.
Undergraduate and graduate students at CSU travel to the ranch in West Routt to study ecology, wildlife and forestry. They camp out in tents on the property, studying everything from pollinators to fire mitigation to the health of Tow Creek that runs through the property. Sturtevant, along with Dr. Paul Evangelista, a research ecologist at the CSU Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, live part-time at the ranch house.
Sturtevant said the ranch allows students to see a different habitat area compared to Fort Collins on the Front Range. In addition to studying forestry, his students have learned how to repair fences, manage invasive weeds, use chainsaws and help with hay production.
Game cameras help monitor wildlife on the property including deer, elk, mountain lion, bear and many diverse species of birds.
“My goal is always to get (students) out, and this gives us the opportunity to make that happen,” Sturtevant said.
One reason the ranch is so apt for natural resources research and hands-on learning is the massive amount of rehabilitation the couple facilitated on the ranch. The land has been owned by the Utterback family since 1906, and when Karin inherited the ranch from her father in 1995, the property had been overgrazed by cattle and was plagued with invasive weeds, as well as runoff from old coal mining operations.
The couple spent the next 24 years rehabilitating the property and restoring the riparian areas. She credits the technical and cost-sharing assistance of various state and federal agencies with helping to bring the land back to a healthier natural state.
She also gives kudos to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Habitat Partnership Program thought Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado State Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy and CSU Routt County Extension for help through the years.
“Every year we’d take on a few projects. We let nature do the healing,” the owner said of the overall property management plan the couple developed.
The couple was recognized by the Upper Yampa Habitat Partnership Program as 2011 Landowner of the Year for their efforts. The award highlighted wildlife-friendly fencing projects with high-visibility top wire and wildlife passage areas that lead to better movement while reducing injuries, as well as water development projects that enhanced resources available for livestock and wildlife.
“What we’ve learned is that if you have good advice and you follow that advice, (you can) let nature heal itself,” she explained in a video created about the property restoration. “We got rid of the weeds. We reseeded. We restored wetlands, and then we let nature take its course. We did not overgraze it, and that is critical. And it has been slowly coming back.”
Running ranch errands in Steamboat Springs on Friday, Sturtevant said, “It’s just been a privilege to be able to work on the property. It’s a beautiful piece of land.”
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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