5,000 acres in Routt County conserved | SteamboatToday.com

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5,000 acres in Routt County conserved

Commissioners approve more than $3 million for 6 parcels

Routt County Commissioners approved Tuesday a conservation easement for more than 760 acres on the Chew Ranch in North Routt County. The approval is one of six by commissioners, who this year have allocated more than $3.6 million to conserve more than 5,200 acres through the county's Purchase of Development Rights program.

— Efforts to preserve agricultural land in Routt County took a big step forward Tuesday when county commissioners gave final approval to allocating more than $3 million for the conservation of six parcels totaling more than 5,000 acres.

Locations of the conserved properties span the county, from the Little Snake River area in North Routt to near the Flat Tops Wilderness Area in South Routt to the Wolf Mountain area in West Routt. Landowners and family members, in some cases representing several generations, were on hand Tuesday in the historic Routt County Courthouse for the approvals that finalized conservation of parcels valued for agricultural use, ranching, wildlife and scenic vistas.

When added to the conservation of Del's Triangle Three ranch in North Routt earlier this year, the six parcels conserved Tuesday create a total of 5,255 acres conserved in 2010, with the use of $3.6 million in a voter-approved expense of property tax dollars through the county's Purchase of Development Rights program.

One of the parcels conserved Tuesday includes more than 760 acres on the Chew Ranch just west of Clark in North Routt. The Colorado Cattlemen's Agri­cultural Land Trust will hold that conservation easement, which was finalized with $800,000 from the PDR program, $600,000 from Great Outdoors Colorado and an $850,000 donation from the Chew family.

Rancher Scott Chew said the family receives "four or five letters every year from real estate companies" inquiring about their land, which remains a working, summertime ranch.

"We were seriously considering whether we'd have to sell off a portion of the land to maintain the operation," Chew said.

He said had such a sale occurred, development likely would soon follow.

"Almost overnight, it would be split up and have houses on it," Chew said.

North Routt rancher Jay Fetcher said conversations have long been under way about conservation efforts on the Upper Elk River Valley near Clark.

"This is the first PDR money that's been spent on that project since 1993, and it's the first GOCo money," Fetcher said Tuesday.

Other parcels conserved Tues­day include:

■ 290 acres on the Salisbury Ranch, home to the O'Toole family and including one mile of the Little Snake River along Routt County Road 129 in North Routt, through the Colorado Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust and with $150,000 of PDR funds

■ 2,500 acres of Smith Rancho, owned by Brad and Jackie Smith and adjacent to Wolf Mountain Ranch in West Routt, through The Nature Conservancy

■ 1,000 acres on the Harvey family's property in the Elk River Valley, through The Nature Conservancy

■ The 387-acre Historic Red­mond Home Ranch, home to Jack and Wanda Redmond and adjacent to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area in South Routt, through the Yampa Valley Land Trust and with $550,000 of PDR funds

■ The more than 370-acre Y Bracket Y Ranch, owned by Rita Nelson and northwest of Yampa in South Routt, through the Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust and with $300,000 of PDR funds

The PDR program is funded by a 1.5 mill property tax re-approved in 2006, nine years after the program was first approved for a 10-year period. The 2006 renewal is good for 20 years.

The PDR process works by providing voter-approved tax dollars as an incentive to landowners, often ranch families, to enter into a conservation easement that sets the land aside from development. The property owners donate a substantial portion of the value of the easement as determined by an appraisal.

Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush is on vacation this week and was absent Tuesday. Com­mis­sioners Nancy Stahoviak and Doug Monger approved all the conservation efforts with 2-0 votes. Both emphasized how several of the conserved parcels adjoin already conserved parcels, to create large tracts of protected lands.

"We're finally seeing come to fruition what we had originally envisioned," Stahoviak said.

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com