LPS boasts elk in the backyard

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— If wildlife isn't your cup of tea, Sundance Ridge Preserve might not be the rural subdivision for you. Then again, if the thought of savoring a hot mug of coffee and gazing out your kitchen window at dawn to the sight of six cow elk stealing silently through your aspen grove sounds appealing, Sundance Ridge might be the perfect place to build your dream home.

Sundance Ridge is a new land preservation subdivision (LPS) being created on the flanks of Blacktail Mountain, about 11 miles south of Steamboat Springs. In addition to 11 building sites of 11 acres each, Sundance Ridge will include three ponds and an extensive network of foot and horseback trails for the enjoyment of residents.

However, the real key to the property is a 201-acre preservation parcel used extensively by a resident herd of elk.

"The developers could have put another lot up there, but they wanted to keep it very pristine," listing Realtor Mitch Clementson of Steamboat Real Estate said. "The lots are set up so elk can get through the subdivision. The emphasis is on local wildlife."

The developers are Steamboat local Mark Steur and two siblings; brother, Lee, from Boulder and a sister, Lynne McNamara. The developers have reserved two lots for their own use and two others have closed.

Mark Steur said he and his siblings come from a ranching background and their early years on the old Mike Hinman Ranch near the present site of Wolford Mountain Reservoir, factored into their approach to developing Sundance Ridge.

"We really spent a lot of time looking for the right piece of property," Steur said. "Part of our ranching ethic was to keep the land as natural as possible.

Steur said he was drawn to Routt County's land preservation subdivision ordinance because it has the twin goals of preserving some agricultural activity while at the same time improving wildlife habitat or at least not harming it.

Previously, Sundance Ridge was overgrazed, Steur said. The preservation parcel will continue to be grazed, but far less intensely.

Steur consulted for almost a year with Division of Wildlife Officer Jim Hicks on how to improve elk habitat on the property. He learned that his land included some good elk-calving habitat, but it could be made better. Cow elk don't like to travel more than 600 to 800 feet from their newborns to get water, Steur said. Accordingly, two new ponds on the property are situated where they will open up new calving rounds for the elk.

Mark and Lee, who eventually plan to build homes in the subdivision, also are conducting a forestry program intended to rejuvenate some aging stands of aspen on the land. By cutting down some of the oldest trees, Steur said, they can trigger the growth of many more aspen saplings than if they simply allowed declining trees to die and fall over.

The lots range in price from $299,000 to $450,000, with most in the range of $329,000-$339,000. The terms of the land preservation subdivision approved by Routt County allow for an attached secondary dwelling unit on nine of the lots.

The subdivision covenants allow owners to build barns and keep horses, Clementson said. Up to three acres of each lot may be fenced, as long as the fences don't interfere with elk migration routes.

Clementson said the subdivision roads have been built, but he's most excited about the completion of a central water system this spring.

"It takes out the question, 'Are we going to get water?'" Clementson said. "The well is in, storage tanks will be complete this spring and the lines are almost complete.

Clementson said that in some subdivisions in rural Routt County, the availability of household water isn't known until a new owner drills a well. Most developers won't sell lots with the availability of water as a contingency. But his clients wanted to remove all doubt, Clementson said. The ponds, in addition to offering the possibility of fishing, will offer water for fire fighting, thus lowering the cost of insurance, Clementson said. The ponds have fittings that will allow fire trucks to draw water directly, should the need ever arise.

The subdivision is forested with aspens and gambel oak, and the seven miles of trails on the property wind past the ponds and lead to overlooks of the Yampa Valley and Stagecoach Reservoir. The trails are closed to motorized use, except for a period in the fall when all-terrain vehicles may be used to gather dead trees on the property for firewood.

Sundance Ridge borders property owned by the Division of Wildlife, the Upper Yampa Conservancy District, and access through that leads to BLM land on top of Blacktail Mountain and Stagecoach Reservoir beyond.

"The land preservation subdivision process is a great way to go," Steur said. "I would recommend it."

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