Steamboat Springs A dream that began five years ago has come true.
For her retirement, Nancy Merrill wanted to live on land where birds are plentiful, and she wanted to be able to protect that land for her feathered friends.
Recently, she and her husband, John Merrill, protected 160 acres of riverside agricultural land on their Hayden ranch through a donation of a conservation easement to The Nature Conservancy. The protection of their land adds to more than 1,600 acres of adjoining riverside lands already permanently protected from subdivision development through conservation easements.
The Merrills had been coming to Steamboat Springs from Chicago to ski every year for about 15 years. They knew they wanted to retire in Routt County, John Merrill said.
Because the Yampa River is one of the few remaining rivers in Colorado not dammed, its natural wildlife habitat remains.
The Merrills' ranch attracts more than 100 species of birds, including bobolinks and greater sandhill cranes. Nancy Merrill's love of the birds that populate the area along the Yampa led the Merrills to name the ranch "Yampavian Ranch."
"She's a fanatic, passionate bird lover," John Merrill said.
The bobolinks, also known as reedbirds, will benefit greatly from the Merrills. The songbirds nest in hay meadows on the Yampavian Ranch and other ranches along the Yampa and Elk rivers. Hatchlings are able to fly in late June to early July, according to the Nature Conservancy.
Studies conducted on the nearby Carpenter Ranch suggest the majority have fledged by July 4, so the Merrills try to schedule their hay harvest after that time.
Greater sandhill cranes and river otters will also benefit from the easement, as it protects their habitat as well.
The Merrills wanted to buy ecologically significant land because they wanted to protect it, John Merrill said.
When they learned The Nature Conservancy was looking for conservation-minded people to buy such land along the Yampa River, they realized their goals were a good match.
"Our goals on the ranch are aimed at improving habitat for wildlife," Nancy Merrill said.
"Our goal on the Yampa is to work with private landowners and other partners to protect the natural function of the river system for the natural and human communities that depend on and enjoy it," said Ann Oliver, the Conservancy's Yampa River Project Director. "It has been wonderful to work with the Merrills. To succeed in linking a conservation-minded buyer with an ecological jewel like this property is a rare event. There are so many properties in need of buyers like the Merrills."
This conservation easement is a legal agreement that will ensure the land remains undisturbed by development.
Since 1985, The Nature Conservancy has partnered to protect more than 5,000 acres of ecologically significant lands in the Yampa Valley. The donation of this easement on the Yampavian Ranch adds to almost 3,000 acres and more than 9 miles of river channel that have been protected in the area.