Guest Column: The promise of Ascendigo Ranch |

Guest Column: The promise of Ascendigo Ranch

Peter Bell
Ascendigo Autism Services
Ascendigo Autism Services CEO Peter Bell.

Ascendigo Autism Services recently purchased a beautiful 126-acre parcel in eastern Missouri Heights, envisioning Ascendigo Ranch as an optimal location for delivering educational supports in a rustic, rural setting conducive to learning and personal growth. It will allow us to better serve more individuals, families and professionals in a way that prioritizes inclusion.

And we’re asking for you to include us.

Inclusion also benefits the general community whose members live, work, study and play alongside those who are differently abled.

For individuals and families impacted by autism — now diagnosed in about 2% of all children — we have the opportunity to change their world and ours in profound ways. Both quality of life and economic outcomes are enhanced through autism-specific supports and skill development in natural, community-based environments.

When we purchased the Ascendigo Ranch property in October 2020, it was destined to become a subdivision of more than 20 luxury homes. Earlier this year, we applied to convert the land use from a residential development to an educational facility, as allowed under the current rural zoning designation. The Garfield Board of County Commissioners will hold a limited impact review hearing on our application on June 21.

Sadly, some neighbors in Missouri Heights have pushed back on our plans and our vision. The “Keep MO Heights Rural” campaign has made assertions not borne out by facts, about Ascendigo Ranch evidenced by extensive water, traffic, wildlife, engineering and land-use studies.

While we understand that any development represents a change for the neighbors, we have done our homework and proposed a responsible, sustainable, permissible and decidedly more rural plan than the already permitted housing development.

Our proposed building site leaves more of the land open, reducing density and improving biodiversity and view planes. Planned equestrian facilities, active agriculture and preservation of historic ranching artifacts ensure community compatibility. The design of our buildings is in keeping with other structures across Missouri Heights in style, materials and size.

The property has dedicated wells, not shared with any neighbors. With capacity and rights for domestic water equivalent to 26 single-family homes, the projected consumptive water use for our ranch will be far less than the potential subdivision. In addition, our plan to resume the practice of active irrigation of pastureland using ditch water will return more water to the ground than our camp will deplete in a typical year.

Robust fire preparedness plans will exceed those of most homeowners. As a Colorado licensed child-care provider, we implement legally required safety plans. We have a proven track record of safe evacuations, when needed, during seven summers of hosting camp at CMC’s Spring Valley campus.

At Ascendigo, we are experts at what we do. Based in downtown Carbondale, we have operated as a leading 501(c)3 nonprofit in the valley for 17 years. Named 2019 Carbondale nonprofit of the year, our Charity Navigator rating is a perfect 100. Our 60 full-time employees serve as friends, neighbors, parents and patrons to many local residents and businesses.

As an organization, we strive to improve lives and promote acceptance, and as parents of kids with autism and your neighbors, we are deeply saddened that this issue has become divisive. While some believe large private homes are a better future for the site, our vision is different. We envision an inclusive, rustic community that fosters everyone’s personal growth and celebrates diversity and vibrancy in historic Missouri Heights.

Our Ascendigo Ranch participants will ride horses at an outdoor ring and on dedicated trails. Like many neighbors, they will hike and bike, gather for games and therapies, tend gardens, develop employment skills, and access amenities the rest of us enjoy throughout the valley. Some will sleep on-site in sensory-friendly, sustainable lodging designed to foster safety and wellbeing. And our time is now for embracing this plan that will change the lives of individuals on the autism spectrum throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond.

Autism, at its core, is a disorder of social communication, a challenge in understanding others and being understood. We invite the community to connect with us to understand the incredible opportunity that is the promise of Ascendigo Ranch.

Please learn the facts at:

Peter Bell is the president and CEO of Ascendigo Autism Services.

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