It's fascinating that an industry which leaves manure on the bottom of your boots and a sunburn mark across your forehead can be so important to the health of this valley, but that seems to be the case. A Masters Degree study by Lindsey Ellingson showed that the summer tourists coming to Routt County listed the view of the working ranches as a major reason for choosing Steamboat as their summer destination. Seeing real cowboys ride their horses down a mountain slope with a herd of cattle in front of them suited their imagination of what it is to be a rancher. Ellingson's report estimated that $8 million in tourist money would be lost if the valley did not have a ranching industry.
However, the down side to this scenario is most ranchers have to work a second job in order to remain solvent. There are a few with enough land to make a living, but that means working from sun up to sun down, seven days a week. Keeping the tourists fascinated is hard work with very little financial rewards for the rancher. CJ Mucklow, the Routt County Extension Agent, estimated the average rancher made $40,000 per year and the average age of the valley's rancher is sixty one. Another major problem is keeping the ranchlands in the family. How do you pass to the next generation land that is so expensive it is difficult to find a way for the next generation to inherit without paying high taxes. These factors are the reason the industry that keeps the summer tourists coming back to the valley is barely holding on.
But it is a way of life. I remember my father saying over and over, particularly after a long, hard day and the cattle prices were down, "This is the best place to raise my kids." And that's how most ranchers feel. It is a way of life and it teaches kids how to solve problems that most young people don't face until they are much older, or maybe not at all. I've heard the armed services people say, 'If you have a problem, find a ranch kid, and he'll figure out how to fix it."
After learning that Steam-boat is the last ski town to have a viable ranching industry, CJ Mucklow and several interested people started the Community Agriculture Alliance, hoping to create an organization that would address the problems facing the ranching industry. At present, Marsha Daughenbaugh is the executive director. She is from a four-generation ranching family and, like most people raised on a ranch, she knows how to make things work. Between the vision of Mucklow and the efficient organizational skills of Marsha, this organization has been listed as one of the most effective nonprofits operating in Routt County.
The goals of Community Agriculture Alliance are to help the people who now own the 35-acre tracts and the ranchers with many years experience work together, to teach the local people the rules, regulations and good ranching industry practice, and promote the local products. If we are going to keep the agriculture industry in this valley, the people who depend on the tourist industry need to be aware of the problems facing the ranching community. Community Agriculture Alliance is attempting to bring the problems and possible solutions before the public.
If you are looking for an organization to support, I suggest you check out the Community Agriculture Alliance. I feel you'll find an organization that follows its mission statement: Committed to the Yampa Valley's agricultural heritage through bridging our agriculture, business, community and resort interests.