Real estate frenzy gobbles ranches, changes countryside
Cowpokes are officially an endangered species in the Roaring Fork Valley.More than 11,000 acres of ranch land was sold in the valley in the last year, and most of that land was sold to development firms, according to Martha Cochran, director of the Aspen Valley Land Trust, a leading conservation organization.”The core of the ranching community is getting pushed out,” said Cochran, whose group is battling to preserve some of the last remaining large tracts on the valley floor.The ongoing real estate frenzy that shattered sales volume records for the last two years and is on a record pace this year is also giving the valley a facelift by bringing urbanization to the remaining rural corners. Cochran said only a handful of ranches larger than 1,000 acres remain between Aspen and Glenwood Springs.”It’s gone. Other than Capitol Creek, it’s gone,” she said.The big sales that she is aware of include: Chenoa, a 5,000-acre ranch with a long history of development schemes near the Spring Valley campus of Colorado Mountain College. Lookout Mountain Ranch, a 2,200-acre spread in the hills between Red Canyon and Glenwood Springs. The buyer is studying his development options. Gould Ranch, an 1,800-acre working ranch in the Missouri Heights area that is adjacent to the well-publicized Lawrence Ranch, which AVLT purchased and partially preserved. The fate of the Gould Ranch is unknown. The 1,600-acre Bershenyi Ranch, near the entrance of Four Mile Canyon near Glenwood Springs. The 565-acre Hunt Ranch in Missouri Heights between Catherine Store Road and Cattle Creek Road. The new owners have applied to Garfield County to develop 93 house lots.The hot market makes it more difficult for conservation organizations to do their job, according to Dale Will, director of Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails department. The best chance to conserve a ranch is by talking to the families that worked the land and have an emotional interest in it. Once the land is out of their hands, it’s often impossible to get investors interested in discussing conservation, according to Will.”When new money comes in, they are much more interested in speculation and more concerned about the bottom line,” he said.Cochran said her organization continues to try to preserve land, despite the soaring real estate prices. AVLT usually relies on voluntary conservation easements from landowners who receive tax benefits in return. It rarely buys land or conservation easements.Much of AVLT’s focus is in the middle and lower valley as well as the lower Colorado River valley. Cochran said she is working with a consortium of 19 ranches to conserve land in the Dry Hollow, Garfield Creek and Divide Creek areas. And AVLT worked with the Nieslanik family to preserve a ranch in the White Hill area outside of Carbondale earlier this year.
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