Steamboat Springs Hazel Wheeler bought a ranch in Routt County with her late husband Dean in 1954. When her husband died, she divided the 428-acre ranch among her three children.
Wheeler said she would have loved for her children to keep the ranch intact, but life circumstances and the high demand for land made selling part of the ranch necessary.
"It's very hard to make it and the land cannot pay for the price," she said.
Hazel's son, Doug Wheeler, sold his portion of the land, which allowed him to buy a ranch with an arena in Elizabeth.
She said the high price of land in Routt County made it easier to sell and buy another ranch in a less expensive area.
Twenty years ago, the ranch appraised for $350,000. Last year, it was appraised at $1 million, a price that simply astounds Wheeler.
Routt County's heritage is deeply rooted in ranching and agriculture. But the industry is only a fraction of what it once was, in part because of development pressures.
As the demand for land for housing increases so does the price for that land. And as ranchers increasingly find it difficult to make a profit working the land, the pressure to sell grows.
More and more Routt County ranchers have chosen to do what Doug Wheeler did sell their very valuable ranch land here and use the proceeds to purchase land in a more affordable and more agriculturally intensive area.
Jim Kemry had hoped to take over his father's ranch in Routt County, but realized inheritance taxes would make it impossible for him to afford it. So a few years ago he sold the ranch and purchased a spread in western Nebraska.
"The decision to move can be very hard," Kemry said. "It's just the area is changing. It was bad enough that we couldn't see it getting any better."
Kemry said his ranch in Nebraska is more ideal for raising livestock and the community is geared more to the ranching industry. He said as ranching has declined in the Steamboat area, support industries such as stores that sell farming equipment and supplies have declined as well.
"We're happy to still be able to be taking care of cows," he said. "The cows haven't changed, just the location."
Kemry certainly isn't the only one who has moved. Kemry now lives in near proximity to Bill Baldwin, David Sherrod and David and Christy Fredrickson, all former Routt County farmers or ranchers.
David Fredrickson said his great great-grandfather homesteaded the present-day Carpenter Ranch and many of his family members were among the first families in Routt County. He settled with his family outside of Hayden, but left five years ago dissatisfied with the way the area around him was changing.
He said the increasing number of people working in Steamboat and living in Hayden changed the flavor of the town. Fredrickson's ranch in Nebraska offers everything he had hoped for in a ranch.
"It's always a struggle in agriculture, but here agriculture is the primary industry in the valley," he said. "We're not competing with residential or recreational."
While some have left, many ranchers are still trying to find ways to hang on to their land. One of the best options is a trust.
Cynthia and Bill May placed a portion of their land in the Yampa Valley Land Trust, but are selling three 35-acre parcels to pay off their land loan and help make ends meet on the ranch. Cynthia May said putting their land in a trust will alleviate the possibility of their ranch being sold and divided. Susan Otis, executive director of the Yampa Valley Land Trust, said the trust gives ranchers another option that hasn't always been available. She said it gives ranchers the hope that their land will be used for ranching for future generations.
Jim and Jo Stanko placed their land in the Yampa Valley Land Trust for a number of reasons.
Jo Stanko said her son cannot afford to buy or inherit their ranch, and they can't afford to give it to him."The vision was (to have the land) stay in the family for generations," she said.
Jo Stanko said they feel the pressure of development as houses are built around their ranch south of Steamboat on Twentymile Road. She said ranching is a constant challenge that takes a lot of tenacity and the will to hang on to a way of life.
Sadly, she said, the challenges are only increasing as land prices continue to rise.
"Younger people can't afford to get into the business," she said. "They can't make a living in agriculture to pay off the land."