Chaffee County, CO ― The Trust for Public Land (TPL), working with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT), lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), and Chaffee County, has succeeded in permanently protecting a 223-acre high mountain meadow on the Hutchinson Ranch, located near Salida.
A working cattle ranch designated a “Colorado Centennial Farm,” the Hutchinson Ranch has been in the Hutchinson family since the 1860s. The ranch, located between Salida and Poncha Springs on US Highway 50, is bordered by federal land and other private and public protected properties; includes frontage along the South Arkansas or “Little Arkansas” River; and serves as important wildlife habitat.
In 2003, the Hutchinson Ranch and homestead was listed in the top five of endangered places in Colorado by Colorado Preservation Incorporated. Prior to that, the Hutchinsons donated their original 1860s family homestead― listed on the National Register of Historic Places―to the Town of Poncha Springs.
In recent years, Chaffee County has grown in popularity as a tourist destination and location for second homes. Although property prices have stabilized, the boom years have left long-term ranchers facing land and inheritance taxes that their traditional ranching operations cannot support.
Because the Hutchinson family believes their working ranch is their legacy, selling was not an option. Working with TPL, CCALT and their advisors, the Hutchinsons mapped out the details of a conservation easement that puts nearly half of the ranch under permanent protection, and gives the family the financial resources needed to continue to work the land.
“I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to work with the Hutchinsons to secure their family’s legacy,” said TPL Project Manager, Wade Shelton. “It’s rare to work with a family that has been in the Upper Arkansas Valley since Colorado was a territory and has played such an important role in the region’s history.” Protecting the meadow completes the second phase of the conservation easement project. The Hutchinsons donated a conservation easement on 185-acres of the ranch in 2010 to CCALT, which was subsequently transferred to the Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas. Now, TPL and CCALT are working to secure funding for the final phase of the transaction, which is expected to close in 2013.
“NRCS is thrilled with this partnership," said Dawn Jackson, NRCS Assistant State Conservationist for Programs in Colorado. "The FRPP Program is designed to protect and keep productive farm and ranchlands in agricultural use for future generations.”
TPL secured funding from GOCO, NRCS and Chaffee County to purchase the conservation easement and worked with CCALT to manage the transaction to ensure that the outcome would meet the needs of everyone involved, particularly the landowners.
“One of the Chaffee County Commissioners’ objectives is to support our counties ranch and farm families,” states Frank Holman, Chairman of the Board of Chaffee County Commissioners. “Another is to keep intact our agricultural properties and irrigation water. We are honored to be a part of the partnership that protected the Hutchinson Ranch and water.”
In a statement from Art, Andy and Lisa Hutchinson, descendants of Dr. Wendell Hutchinson, who still resides on the ranch they said, “This is a milestone event for our family and we are pleased that so many have joined us in this effort and hope that others in the area will see the value in preserving the valley’s agricultural lands and waters. We trust that future generations who live or simply visit this spectacular valley will also see that land protection is valuable and will have this open space as a tangible tie to its rich history.”
Easements can be an effective way to protect natural resources, help ranchers continue to work the land and maintain a region’s rural character. To date, over 2,000 acres of productive agricultural land has been protected in Chaffee County.
“Working with the Hutchinsons to protect the oldest working ranch in the Upper Arkansas Valley and keep it in ranching has been very rewarding,” says CCALT Executive Director, Chris West. “This project should also help to build momentum for additional agricultural preservation in Chaffee County.”
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Wade Shelton, The Trust for Public Land
Chris West, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural land Trust
Chris Leding, Great Outdoors Colorado
Petra Barnes-Walker, USDA NRCS Colorado
The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come.
The Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT) is a nonprofit land conservation organization whose mission is to “…protect productive agricultural lands and the conservation values they provide by working with ranchers and farmers, thereby preserving Colorado’s ranching heritage and rural communities.”
GOCO is the result of a citizens’ initiative passed by 58% of the voters in 1992. GOCO awards grants with a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife. Since 1994, more than 3,400 projects in all 64 counties have received GOCO funding.