South Routt South Routt County rancher Cynthia Crawford says she has had enough.
Even with more than 2,100 acres of property to herself, she says there is no escaping the vehicles that speed down Colorado Highway 131. She is unable to grow enough hay to feed the 160 head of cattle that were grazing along the Yampa River on an autumn afternoon last week. Then, there is the issue of growth in the valley. Crawford says development is pushing her out.
"Eventually it's going to put all of us out of business," Crawford said. "I'm moving all my livestock. I'm going to continue to ranch, but it's not going to be here."
In October, the C-Cross-C Ranch, which has been in the Crawford family since 1914, went on the market for $23,342,000.
A local ranching family getting out of the business in Routt County is not uncommon, said Marsha Daughenbaugh of the Community Agriculture Alliance.
"We've lost people that decide the grass is greener somewhere else, so they decide to ranch there," she said. "We've seen people come and go."
Crawford, 58, is looking at moving her operations to Wyoming, Montana or Nebraska, where the land is plentiful - and cheap by comparison.
Crawford's great-grandfather, George Crawford, worked as a U.S. Marshall in Steamboat and purchased the C-Cross-C Ranch in 1914. Crawford's father, John "Jack" Crawford, came to the ranch when he was a young boy. Cynthia Crawford also was raised on the ranch.
"It was totally different kind of life," Crawford said about her time growing up on the ranch and helping to raise the dairy cows, beef cattle and sheep.
Crawford said it was a hard life and her family struggled.
"He was able to hold onto this ranch," Crawford said of her father. "That was an incredible feat."
However, in the late 1960s, he was forced to sell off his livestock to pay the bank, and he leased the land out until Crawford took over ranch operations in 1993. To get started, Crawford bought 10 head of cattle.
In 1999, Crawford's dad died and left her the land.
'Easier to just walk away'
Crawford said she keeps a herd of about 20 horses at the C-Cross-C Ranch simply because "they're just beautiful to look at." A barn and pasture along Highway 131 are home to some of the horses and cats that she has rescued.
Last year, Crawford gave up the development rights to about 570 acres of her land to help protect the wildlife and habitat. Crawford placed about 100 acres along a one-mile stretch of the Yampa into a conservation easement to protect it from future development. The other parcel, which is 469 acres, is at the peak of Thorpe Mountain and home to mule deer, mountain lions, black bears, and an elk heard that Crawford treasures.
Crawford said she is happy the land will be protected from development, but she fears the wildlife is still endangered.
"I love the elk," Crawford said. "I wanted to try to save this herd of elk."
Crawford said she had not even considered selling the ranch until she learned a neighboring 1,000-acre parcel on the west side of Thorpe Mountain was being sold and developed as a land preservation subdivision, or LPS. By right, the owners of the property can build one home per 35 acres of property, which equates to 28 new neighbors for Crawford. She doesn't think the elk stand a chance.
"I cannot deal with the west side of this mountain being developed," Crawford said "If it wasn't for these houses going up, I wouldn't sell it."
Crawford is confident the ranch will sell in the next two years, but she is not so confident the C-Cross-C Ranch will remain a ranch.
"I suspect it will probably go to development," Crawford said. "I could develop it myself and make all the money, but I don't want to see it developed. It's easier to just walk away."
As the executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance, it's Daughenbaugh's job to help promote agriculture in Routt County.
She said it is always sad when a longtime rancher decides to sell and go elsewhere.
"We do hate to lose the local folks because they are the ones that built the community over the years," she said. "The only thing we can do is hope that we can hold on to values in our community and hope we can have something left when it's all said and done."
If the C-Cross-C Ranch is indeed purchased by someone for $11,000 an acre, Daughenbaugh said it is unlikely the purchaser is looking to make a living off the ranch.
"Even if you have really productive land, at the very most, you're going to see $500 per acre per year," she said.
Donna Mae Hoots and Mark Fischer with Real Living Professional Group are Crawford's realtors.
Mae Hoots, who also is a Routt County native and was raised on a ranch on the lower Elk River, said there are a number of potential uses for the ranch. For instance, someone might be looking for a private retreat.
"It's just a beautiful area," Mae Hoots said.
Developing the property is also an option, but someone wanting to make a go at ranching might have a difficult time.
"It would have to be someone with substantial (financial) backing to keep it ranching," Mae Hoots said.