The large log lodge with its dining room is the centerpiece of Elk Creek Ranch, which has nine of its 65 home sites still for sale.

Courtesy photo

The large log lodge with its dining room is the centerpiece of Elk Creek Ranch, which has nine of its 65 home sites still for sale.

Rio Blanco property offers half-acre parcels, fishing, hunting

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Courtesy photo

The sinuous oxbows of Elk Creek and the main stem of the White River make the ranch a paradise for trout fishermen.

— Elk Creek Ranch developer and Steamboat Springs resident Bill Wheeler has sold all but nine of the 65 home sites on his vast fishing and hunting ranch in Rio Blanco County, and he’s intent on completing his marketing process.

The beauty of the upper White River Valley between Trap­per’s Lake and Meeker is his biggest selling point at Elk Creek Ranch where the remaining half-acre cabin sites are priced from $1.75 million to $2.5 million.

“My family has owned land in the South Fork Valley since 1947,” Wheeler said. “I’m third generation in the valley.”

Cam Boyd and Pam Vanatta, of Prudential Steamboat Realty, recently have landed a listing for one of the remaining lots at Elk Creek, as have Realtors in Aspen and Winter Park. Wheeler said Boyd and Vanatta previously have brought buyers to the ranch, and he’s hopeful their ability to expose the remaining lots to the second-home market will pay dividends.

“We had only three sales in 2008; however, we had 10 in 2009 and 11 new development lots in 2010,” Wheeler said. “I also sold three resales last year.”

Boyd said the listing he shares with Vanatta gives Wheeler entry to the Steamboat Multiple Listing Service and his agency’s marketing.

“If people are seriously interested, we can accompany them over there and show them all of the lots,” Boyd said. “The interest here has been from people who already own a vacation home in Steamboat and want a fishing and hunting retreat. It backs up to the national forest and the Flat Tops.”

Wheeler said seven private homes have been built on the ranch and seven more are in the midst of construction, with four to six in the design stage.

Steamboat-based subcontractors have worked on homes at Elk Creek, but although some general contractors have bid projects there, they have yet to land a contract.

With the ranch about two hours away by car in good weather via Meeker, or a quick hop in a private plane, it’s easily accessible for a few days of hunting or fishing on the edge of the Flat Tops.

Wheeler is confident he has a powerful lure to help him net those buyers. The ranch controls 30 miles of highly productive trout streams in the midst of an ongoing cattle operation that has worked to re-establish historic elk migratory routes.

More than 1 ranch

Elk Creek Ranch is a 2,850-acre property centered on a large log lodge at the confluence of the White River and Elk Creek. All but 2 percent of the ranch is contractually promised to Rio Blanco County as open space in perpetuity.

“It’s the county’s version of conservation easement,” Wheeler said.

He started construction on the main lodge 23 years ago, completed it and managed the property as a destination fishing lodge for 18 years.

Although the home sites Wheeler is offering measure a half-acre — essentially building envelopes — owners have undivided interests in the balance of the ranch.

“We have zero debt on the property, and that makes it a great balance sheet item for the high-net-worth buyer,” Wheeler said. “They can enjoy the ranch and watch the investment grow.”

However, Elk Creek is more than that. The owners association holds 60-year leases on two neighboring ranches, including hunting and fishing on the 4,200-acre K/K Ranch and a fishing lease on the 4,800-acre YZ Ranch.

“They really add to the basket of resources we have at the ranch,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler is serious about running a no-frills cattle ranch. Wheeler’s general manager of the development, Mike Walker, is also a Steamboat resident. A Rio Blanco County rancher, Buckshot Sheridan, runs cattle and cuts hay on the property.

“We raise grass-fed beef and bring sheep in for a few weeks in the spring to keep down the noxious weeds before we bring the cows back in the fall,” Wheeler said. “It’s a beautiful thing. We aren’t trying to run (a dude ranch); if you want to help fix fences or run cattle, you can. It’s one of the last real ranching places where you bring your children and say, ‘Here’s how the ranchers live.’”

He has allowed only archery and muzzleloaders on the main ranch, with the more common rifle hunting for big game on the K/K Ranch.

He said he has been working closely with Colorado Division of Wildlife fisheries biologists on propagating nearly pure Colorado River cutthroats in Elk Creek as well as on an explanation for the growth rate of trout on the ranch where they consume a wide variety of aquatic insects.

“It’s a spring creek. It’s the real deal,” Wheeler said.

He is interested in attracting buyers who are equally interested in stewardship of wildlife. He accomplishes that in part by limiting homes at Elk Creek Ranch to 3,300 square feet.

“It’s a culture,” Wheeler said. “We didn’t want any trophy homes.”

Comments

Verleen Tucker 3 years, 7 months ago

As a descendant of people who have been in and out of Meeker since 1940 I am not thrilled that the Wheeler family has chosen to develop South Fork. However, I am grateful that Bill Wheeler recognizes the great beauty of this valley and has, according to your reporting, established that 'all but 2 percent of the ranch is contractually promised to Rio Blanco as open space in perpetuity.' What exactly that statement translates to is not clear to me. Since I see I do not see [from your reporting] that any part of the ranch has been set aside for public access I must assume that the open space will be for the benefit of anyone who can afford the $1.75 million dollars for their cabin(?) site and that the rest of us will enjoy South Fork as we always have...from the road.

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