New conservation easement reunites pieces of Routt County's historic McDermott Ranch

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— The Routt County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to reunite key pieces of the historic McDermott Ranch at the foot of the Sleeping Giant west of Steamboat Springs.

Technically the vote was to spend $225,000 of property tax revenues dedicated by the voters of the county to preserving the countryside by placing a conservation easement on the 971-acre Six Plus Ranch. It is owned by three adult siblings in the Hutchins family, led by Judy Hutchins and the new easement will be held by the Yampa Valley Land Trust. But the new easement would also add Six Plus Ranch to two nearby ranches already under easement.

“Originally, the property was all part of the McDermott Ranch,” Yampa Valley Land Trust Director Susan Dorsey said. “One of the cool things is that we’re kind of bringing the McDermott Ranch back together.”

She explained that YVLT already holds conservation easements on the adjoining Higby Ranch, now owned by John Weibel, and another just beyond, known to old timers as the Ruth and Forrest Warren Ranch. The red barn on Weibel’s property is the original barn on the McDermott Ranch, Dorsey said.

Dorsey added that the terms of the conservation easement allow for the ranch to be sold only to the owner of an adjoining property under a YVLT easement. And at this point in time, the only qualifying property is the Higby Ranch.

The Routt County program that uses property tax dollars to help put conservation easement in place on rural lands is called Purchase of Development Rights. PDR Board member Allan White told the County Commissioners Tuesday the Six Plus Easement is among the most generous, on the part of the landowner, his board has seen.

“We are contributing $225,000 which is just under 12 percent (of the appraised $1.94 million value of the easement),” White said. “The remainder is a very generous landowner contribution.”

In terms of public benefit, the new easement expands the portion of the Elk River Valley that is protected from development beyond the possibility of a new ranch compound of a portion of the Six Plus Ranch.

“This ranch is visible from several Routt County Roads,” White said.

In addition, the western-most portion of the ranch is home two active breeding leks used by Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, where 178 acres would be set aside for land conservation and/ore wildlife habitat protection. There are also elk calving grounds on the ranch.

Jenna Keller, an attorney representing the Hutchins siblings, said their longstanding interest in placing Six Plus Ranch under a conservation easement pre-dates any pending sale.

“The number-one priority of the Hutchins family is the donation to Yampa Valley Land Trust,” Keller said. “The property as it is now, is likely to stay intact, although there is a possibility (the owners) could sell off the eastern portion,” where the easement permits a new ranch compound.

As evidence of Judy Hutchins’ conviction about conservation easements, Dorsey said she already has easements on three of her ranches in Montana and sits on the boards of two land trusts there.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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