Garfield County commissioners hear more complaints alleging Cedar Ridge Ranch violations; ranch owner objects to hearing

Garfield County commissioners got another earful of complaints Monday from neighbors of Cedar Ridge Ranch near Carbondale about alleged ongoing violations at the guest ranch operation.

An owner of the ranch, however, was unhappy with the way the item was listed on the commissioners’ agenda, without specific reference to the ranch that’s been the subject of numerous, sometimes heated meetings of late before the commissioners.

“This is just outrageous. When is enough enough?” asked ranch co-owner and manager Merrill Johnson, who indicated she only learned of the meeting as it was taking place and immediately logged in to comment via Zoom.

“What’s occurring here is they are trying to ruin our reputation and ruin our business,” she said.

Neighbors begged to differ, however, and were given the opportunity to provide more than 2½ hours’ worth of comments noting their concerns over several years and what they said has been a lack of oversight and enforcement by the county.

They also now have an ally in the nonprofit neighborhood action group Keep Missouri Heights Rural, which successfully fought last year to convince the county commissioners to reject plans by Ascendigo Autism Services to build a summer camp and year-round facility on the eastern end of the area north of Colorado Highway 82 known as Missouri Heights.

“The issues that have been plaguing the neighbors fall squarely into Keep Missouri Heights Rural’s mission as it specifically relates to safety and quality of life, preserving water and wildlife, and our role to advocate for the community … when negative land use impacts adversely affect property owners,” said Lori Brandon, speaking on behalf of the group.

The entrance to the Cedar Ridge Ranch located in Missouri Heights north of Carbondale.
Chelsea Self/ Post Independent

Cedar Ridge Ranch earned approvals from the commissioners in 2018 as the county’s first so-called agri-tourism business, offering glamping, horseback riding and interaction with farm animals for guests, as well as horse boarding and training, and facilities for weddings and other special events.

Most of the recurring neighbor complaints center around what they believe, based on their own observations, are unpermitted and other illegal uses that they accuse the county of turning a blind eye toward.

Among them include year-round camping in what’s supposed to be a seasonal operation according to county permits, open fire pits, permanent yurt structures lacking official certificates of occupancy with plumbed bathrooms and barn improvements that they also claim are not permitted.

Neighbors worry the ranch activities could spark a wildfire and potentially contaminate or diminish area water supplies.

Aside from matters under the county code enforcement’s purview, neighbors also say they’ve observed animal abuse, illegal dumping of animal carcasses, baiting of wildlife, dogs running loose and threatening neighbors and their guests, and threatening confrontations with the ranch operators.

County code enforcement in late December issued a notice of violation over several of the matters related to county permits. A follow-up letter from county building inspector Wade Patton in January indicated the concerns had been addressed.

However, numerous photos were handed over to the commissioners as evidence that the violations continue.

“If the rules and proper guidelines had been truly followed and conditions met … then we wouldn’t be here,” Brandon said.

Nearby residents, including some who share an access easement with Cedar Ridge Ranch, took turns going over several years’ worth of history with the ranch related to water and wastewater, structures that were built or modified, animal complaints, and more.

“From day one, the Cedar Ridge Ranch business did start with the cart before the horse,” said neighbor Ashley Paige, who reiterated that the operation seemed to have been permitted in an effort to correct prior code violations, but then there was a lack of oversight by the county.

“You, dear commissioners, welcomed them back, but with a clean slate to clear up the violations,” she said.

“… It doesn’t matter who says it or what is said to the owners of this business, they continue doing as they please, because they have never been held accountable,” Paige said. “Until someone actually penalizes them for violations, it will continue to the detriment of the safety of Missouri Heights.”

Whether the county intends to follow up with additional code enforcement or legal action is now the topic for private legal counsel, commissioners said after the barrage of complaints were received.

“This is just the same stuff over and over again,” Johnson said in denying the neighbors’ allegations, adding it appears to be an attempt to “push us out.”

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or

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