Eagle County ponies up for Gates Ranch
EAGLE COUNTY – The Gates family has owned a 740-acre ranch north of Dotsero since 1890, and now in exchange for giving up the rights to develop the land, it’s likely they can continue ranching. Eagle County will contribute $2.1 million toward a conservation easement, a legal tool that ensures the land will remain open space.George “Bud” Gates, 79, whose family has owned the land for five generations, said the deal is a way for him to pass the ranch on to his sons and prevent it from being split into parcels and sold to developers.Although it is a private ranch, it has great value to the community, said Bud Gates’ son, Kip. The family opens their ranch to school programs so students can learn about the ranching life and enjoy the open space, he said.”We want to preserve this not only for our family, but so all these kids each year can see what a working ranch is,” Kip Gates said.The total value of the property is $3.4 million. The rest of the cost will come from contributions by the Gates family, the Eagle Valley Land Trust and other organizations and individuals.The county commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday in favor of the deal, with Commissioner Arn Menconi as the dissenting vote.”This is an opportunity to share what the Western heritage is all about to future generations and to the people coming to our valley,” said County Commissioner Sara Fisher, who voted in favor of the proposal.While most members of the public who attended the meeting agreed the ranch was a prime example of pristine land and Western heritage, not everyone agreed that county money should be spent to preserve it. The land, which is off of the Colorado River Road and the County Road 39, is too far from the valley floor and has no public access, argued some, such as Debbie Buckley.”The average working person will never see or step foot on the ranch,” Buckley said. “The remoteness of it will preserve it without the help of tax money.”Menconi said that the $6.8 million in open space money available for 2007 and 2008 needed to be spent closer to the valley floor, where more people could see or use preserved land. “There are proposed developments along the valley that will have a much greater impact environmentally and a much greater cost to taxpayers,” he said.There is not an “imminent threat” of the Gates Ranch getting developed, he said, and there are other areas in the county that have more pressing need of preservation, such as Wolcott.Eagle resident Donna Spinelli said she did not think tax money should pay for the family to continue their ranching life.”I don’t think we should be subsidizing their financial problems,” she said.Others, including Nathan Nottingham, said the land was over-valued. Nottingham’s family owns 20,000 acres of land adjacent to the Gates property. He said a recent appraisal of their land was at $2,500 per acre or less, while the Gates’ land was appraised at more than $7,500 per acre.But others warned that if the land is not preserved now, it will eventually become another high-density development like Beaver Creek or Edwards.In the future the county will not be able to afford land like the Gates Ranch, said County Commissioner Peter Runyon. While the ranch may seem remote now, it will not always be that way, he said.”Before, who would have thought (a developer) would develop south of Minturn? I remember when Beaver Creek was empty with cattle on it and you couldn’t hear the interstate,” he said.Steve Conlin, who owns property neighboring the Gates Ranch, said surrounding land has already been split and sold to developers.”I’m feeling squeezed on both sides. I’d much rather have this on my side than a golf course or housing development,” Conlin said.Land closer to the valley is too expensive, and the Gates ranch is a good value for the county’s dollars, said Tom Steinberg, a member of the Eagle Valley Land Trust, a conservation organization.”We need to get it while it’s less expensive. We have to get what’s left before it’s gone,” he said.Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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