Community Agriculture Alliance: Recreation, agriculture find balance

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Being involved in agriculture and real estate, I often notice the interesting and successful balance agricultural producers, the resort industry and absentee property owners in Routt County have established.

Steamboat Springs stands out among other Colorado ski resorts because it has maintained and protected its deep agricultural roots. Its legendary powder makes Steamboat one of the top destination resorts in the world, and the true Western heritage and friendly atmosphere endear visitors, sometimes turning them into residents. Visitors interested in purchasing property here are attracted to the working landscapes and the genuine Western image for which Steamboat is known.

The influence on prices near Steamboat Ski Area has persuaded some families to sell and take the proceeds to other areas where their dollar can buy more acreage. Others have resisted that temptation and not only thrive but often expand their operations to include leased land owned by property owners who do not farm or ranch. The end result is what we’ve discovered throughout the generations: This area successfully continues to support a variety of family farms dedicated to raising crops and livestock. In fact, the number of cattle still exceeds the number of people in Routt County.

Despite land prices that don’t come close to being supported by agriculture production, livestock and crop sales contribute significantly to the economy in Routt County. These receipts supply more than $35 million annually to the local economy. For those involved in agriculture, the connection to the land, the livestock and the great outdoors is an intangible reward that can’t be quantified.

The importance of agriculture and the open vistas to the residents, however, can be measured: Routt County voters twice have approved initiatives that apply tax dollars to the purchase of development rights. The efforts of the Yampa Valley Land Trust and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust combined with local, state and federal funding and landowner participation have protected tens of thousands of acres in the area from significant development. These wide open spaces are suited perfectly for raising livestock, and there are plenty of willing and capable family operations here that sustain the agricultural traditions.

Those strong roots are alive and well and were on display during February’s Winter Carnival parade. Then and now floats featured multiple generations of agriculture-related families who gathered to ride on the horse-drawn then float and the tractor-pulled now float organized by the Routt County CattleWomen.

Through the hard work and dedication of the agricultural producer and responsible land owners, the recognition of Steamboat’s Western heritage by Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and the participation of so many people in the various agriculture organizations, Routt County is a true model of how recreation and agriculture have found the perfect balance to enhance a community.

Belton is a former president of Routt County CattleWomen.

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