Steamboat Springs Saddleback Ranch owner Wayne Iacovetto took to ranching because he'd always wanted to be a cattleman. These days, his family's ranch south of Milner hosts as many as 500 head a day - of people, not cattle.
The Iacovettos fell into the budding industry of agritourism during the past decade with little planning, adding attractions to their ranch as ideas came to them. Their new business began when Iacovetto's wife started summertime cattle drives.
"People would pay us to go move our cattle," Iacovetto said.
While Saddleback still is a working ranch, today it also offers dinnertime sleigh rides, snowmobiling, hunting tours and snow tubing. The Iacovettos have built the necessary infrastructure to support their guest volume throughout the years, from a guest lodge to a fleet of shuttle buses. The tubing run came at the suggestion of frequent visitors from Florida, said Iacovetto, who describes the family's business plan as "build it and they will come."
The family never anticipated they would be running the agritourism enterprise they are today, but they are not alone in the business.
Dozens of farm and ranch owners from Northwest Colorado gathered at Saddleback Ranch on Friday to learn more about agritourism, where the recreational and educational elements of farms and ranches intertwine with travel and tourism. The conference was co-sponsored by the Colorado Department of Agriculture and the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Office.
Topics of discussion Friday included creating a business plan for agritourism, legal and safety implications, marketing and how to best provide a cultural and educational experience that embraces farming and ranching history.
Most of the attendees owned ranch or farm land, and already were either involved in agritourism or just beginning to think about it, said Wendy Lee White, a marketing specialist with the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
Others, like Craig resident Sandy Orgoglioso, wanted to learn more about the niche industry. One of her good friends ranches and is considering agritourism as a means of diversification, Orgoglioso said.
The state Department of Agriculture is planning four more agritourism conferences throughout Colorado during the next few months, White said.
Earning a livelihood
Duke Phillips, owner of the San Luis Valley's Chico Basin Ranch, also never expected to own a business that brought people to his property, but agritourism became a way to keep ranching profitable. Cattle alone can't pay his six-figure annual leasing costs, Phillips said.
"We try to market ourselves as the place where you do the real western cowboy thing - get your hands dirty," Phillips said. "We try to create an experience for people who want to come work on a real, working cattle ranch."
People engaged in agritourism need incredible people skills, an openness to new ideas, and a willingness to accept the age-old mantra that the customer always comes first, Iacovetto said.
"People come first - they're your cash cow," he said. "Whatever they want, you deal with."
For a recent corporate retreat, Nike employees wanted to shoot plastic deer with paintball guns while riding snowmobiles, Iacovetto said.
"That was stuff we never planned on," he said.
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