Conservation gift has special meaning for Emma landowner |

Conservation gift has special meaning for Emma landowner

Ginny Parker as seen on May 30, 2004 on her Happy Day Ranch property in Emma, Colo. with Basalt Mountain in the left background. Parker recently put the scrub oak and sagebrush land she is seen standing on, as well as the strip of pasture in the center background into a conservation easement within Pitkin County in memorial of her daughter, who died of breast cancer six years ago. Aspen Times photo/ Nick Saucier.

Longtime Emma resident Ginny Parker has an extra way this Memorial Day of remembering her daughter, who died at a young age six years ago from breast cancer.

Parker donated a conservation easement that will forever prohibit development on 25 acres of her ranch at the base of the Crown (the large land mass between El Jebel and Mount Sopris). The deal was sealed with the Aspen Valley Land Trust earlier this year.

The 25 acres of prime wildlife habitat are just a couple hundred yards from Parker’s log home, easily visible from some of her windows. Parker had been reserving that part of her ranch as a possible building site in case her daughter and son-in-law had wanted to settle in the Roaring Fork Valley.

It is reserved now in a different way – in the memory of Nancy Parker West, who died at age 34.

“I wanted to leave something in honor of my daughter,” said Parker. “I thought this would be a good way to honor her.”

In the family for 51 years

Placing a conservation easement on the land was also fulfilling for Parker in the sense of preserving land for perpetuity.

“I feel very fortunate to be a steward of that piece of land,” she said.

Her parents bought the working ranch in 1953 from the Whittlesey family. They lived in the big brick house on the corner of Emma Road. That charming Victorian homestead is the hallmark of what is now known as Happy Day Ranch.

Parker spent some time there while in college, but Happy Day Ranch wasn’t her full-time home until she returned to the valley in 1979. She built her house farther up the hillside and rents out the brick Victorian.

The ranch was divided between her and her sister after their parents died; each received 125 acres. Parker kept her share. She is reserving building sites for her two sons, David and Randy, who are both raising families in the valley.

This isn’t the first time that Parker has contributed land to a worthy cause.

After her daughter died, Ginny ran a Race for the Cure to raise funds for breast cancer research and met the regional director of Habitat for Humanity, an organization that provides homes for the working poor. She learned that Habitat had the money to build a house in the valley, but not the land. She donated a half acre that was restricted by Pitkin County for employee housing.

Parker said working with Habitat came easy because her dad shared the

organization’s philosophy that everyone deserves quality housing. Habitat built its first house in the valley on Happy Day Ranch.

‘A good fit’

Parker said she had the idea of placing a conservation easement on the 25 acres soon after her daughter died. “It seemed like a good fit,” she said. Her daughter’s husband, Doug West, supported the idea.

AVLT is the oldest and one of the largest land trusts in Colorado. Parker and other landowners receive tax credits by giving conservation easements to a nonprofit trust such as AVLT.

AVLT liked working with Parker because the land in question provides vital wildlife habitat adjacent to public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The 25 acres of Happy Day Ranch is a combination plate. There is a hay pasture in the lush valley bottom, scrub oak at the base of the Crown and steep slopes of bright-red rock.

Parker said the land is thick with rabbits and prairie dogs which attract coyotes and golden eagles. The coyotes are thick enough that she keeps her small dog on a leash.

Parker raises a few llamas on her land. She leases out pasture for some horses and for neighboring rancher Ray Rather’s cattle. Her land provides some of the pastoral vistas in Emma of sweeping irrigated meadows climbing to the base of the Crown.

Visitors to the ranch can’t help but see an inscription on the side of a hay barn while approaching Parker’s house. “Hurt Not the Earth. Neither the sea nor the trees,” it says. Parker isn’t sure where it comes from; she just likes the philosophy.

She has the satisfaction of knowing 25 acres of her ranch will remain untouched. She hopes her gift may inspire other landowners to consider conservation easements as an option.

“It makes you happy to give,” she said. “Emotionally it’s a good thing to do.”

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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