Carbondale-area ranch spared from the real estate feeding frenzy

Aspen Valley Land Trust will preserve more than 140 acres of agricultural operation and wildlife habitat

At least one of the few remaining ranches in the area won’t be gobbled up by well-heeled urban dwellers fleeing to the Roaring Fork Valley.

Aspen Valley Land Trust is purchasing the Coffman family ranch along Catherine Road for $6.5 million.

The 141-acre ranch, owned by Rex and JoAnn Coffman, has a little bit of everything — cattle grazing, wildlife habitat, wetlands, stunning scenery and ¾–mile of Roaring Fork River frontage.

“It’s just a very unique opportunity,” said Suzanne Stephens, AVLT’s executive director.

And once the ranch is in AVLT’s hands, multiple uses are planned.

“Most of it will stay as it is in ranching,” Stephens said.

Crystal Valley rancher Bill Fales has leased land on the Coffman Ranch for years. Stephens said AVLT is interested in preserving use of agricultural lands in the region as part of its mission.

The Coffman Ranch includes 35 acres of wetlands that is invaluable for wildlife. AVLT will work to enhance the habitat. Seasonal closures likely will be part of the management plan.

A trail looping through a portion of the property is planned, along with river access. AVLT also plans to use the property to educate local students about ranching, wildlife and how they can co-exist.

Another big benefit of AVLT acquiring the ranch is preserving open vistas in a rapidly developing valley floor. The ranch is roughly 1½ miles east of Carbondale and about a quarter-mile west of Catherine Bridge. It’s just north of Catherine Road and also visible from the Rio Grande Trail, which is on the south side of the road.

Weeping willow trees cloak a humble home on the ranch. There is a classic old dairy barn along with several outbuildings and a corral. The property has the look of a classic old Colorado ranch.

“We want to keep the character from the road,” Stephens said.

It’s such a special opportunity that AVLT is breaking from its usual practice of focusing on acquiring conservation easements rather than the land itself. Landowners typically donate a conservation easement to all or some of their property and receive a tax credit. In this case, AVLT will buy the ranch outright at a discounted price.

“They certainly could be making more if they sold it on the open market,” Stephens said.

The Coffmans, who are approaching their 90s, will be given lifetime tenancy at their home. They have been on the ranch for more than 60 years. The Coffmans worked with AVLT previously to place a conservation easement on a small portion of the property.

AVLT has received $2.5 million from Great Outdoors Colorado for the purchase. Pitkin County pledged $2 million in matching funds as part of the grant even though the property is located in Garfield County. The open space program has gotten involved in purchasing property or conservation easements outside Pitkin County when it matches its mission.

“Conservation of this ranch will directly benefit Pitkin County by protecting a valuable reach of Roaring Fork River riparian habitat, protecting senior downstream water rights, ensuring appropriate recreation river access and protecting another high quality agricultural resource in our watershed,” Dale Will, open space acquisition and special projects director, wrote in a memo to the county commissioners.

Pitkin County is purchasing the conservation easement for $2 million. The conservation easement has been appraised at $3.5 million, according to Will. AVLT will seek a tax credit for the donated portion of the easement, helping to offset its acquisition cost. The commissioners unanimously supported the purchase at a meeting Wednesday.

Garfield County has pledged $200,000 to the purchase. AVLT is also securing contributions and grants and will contribute $500,000 from a special fund that provides revenues from a transfer fee on certain real estate sales. A public fundraising campaign will be launched later this year. Stephens is confident the purchase will be completed as scheduled in August.

The goal is to raise $8.5 million to have funds remaining for improvements once the purchase it completed.

“We’re well on our way,” Stephens said.

(Editor’s note: This story was updated to show the planning process will determine more about river access.)