Funds to preserve 2,000 acres

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— More than 2,000 acres of Routt County ranchland will be preserved from future development through two conservation easements expected to be finalized this week.

Routt County commissioners on Tuesday approved more than $750,000 in funding from the county's Purchase of Development Rights, or PDR, program to assist in the acquisition of development rights for the two properties.

"This is Routt County's Christmas present," said Susan Dorsey Otis, executive director of the Yampa Valley Land Trust, which worked with the landowners and other entities, including the PDR program, to secure funding and accomplish other work related to the conservation easements. The Yampa Valley Land Trust will extinguish the development rights to each property when the easements are finalized, Dorsey Otis said.

The two properties are the Trull Ranch west of Steamboat Springs and the Acord Land and Cattle Company property south of Yampa.

The Trull Ranch has been family owned and operated for more than a century. The 747-acre parcel is 10 miles west of Steamboat Springs and one mile north of U.S. Highway 40. Most of the ranch consists of dry grazing land. Its current owner is Maxine Turner, the daughter of Ed and Florence Trull, for whom the ranch is known.

The second property is owned and maintained by the Acord family in South Routt. The 2,115-acre parcel consists mostly of dry grazing land and has been owned and operated by Francis and Elsie Acord since 1966. The Acord Land and Cattle Company is a working cattle ranch. The ranch is about three miles south of Yampa and one mile west of Colorado Highway 131. Only 1,400 acres of the ranch are being included as part of the easement.

The development rights for the two properties are valued at nearly $2 million, of which the county is providing $758,000. A grant from Great Outdoors Colorado provided $106,000 toward the acquisition of the development rights and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service program contributed $140,000. The property owners donated more than $1 million to allow for the purchase of the development rights to their land.

For landowners, selling the development rights to their properties is a way to get some value out of their land while also retaining and preserving it, PDR Citizens Advisory Board chairman Allan White said. White and Dorsey Otis emphasized that most landowners sell their development rights out of an interest for land preservation, not financial gain.

Protecting agricultural lands and open space from future development is a top community priority, Dorsey Otis and Routt County Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow said, and it's why county voters in 1996 approved a 1-mill levy to fund the purchase of development rights until 2006. The mill generated about $650,000 last year.

"Steamboat Springs always emphasizes its Western heritage," Dorsey Otis said. "If we want to emphasize it, we better keep it."

The approval of the mill levy led to the creation of the PDR program. The PDR Citizens Advisory Board evaluates landowner applications before prioritizing projects.

Since its inception, the PDR program has helped to preserve more than 6,000 acres of agricultural lands and open spaces using $2.8 million in taxpayer money. Other funding entities have contributed $3.3 million toward PDR projects and landowners have donated nearly $7 million toward the purchase of their development rights.

The nonprofit Yampa Valley Land Trust was founded in 1992 and works with landowners to acquire and extinguish their development rights. The land trust has worked to secure 50 conservation easements covering 25,000 acres of land in Northwest Colorado during the past decade. The land trust continues to work with properties long after conservation easements are secured to ensure all terms of the easements are being met.


-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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