Counties carve a legacy in Emma ranchlands |

Counties carve a legacy in Emma ranchlands

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
The view looking east from Glassier Ranch will stay pristine thanks to the purchase of properties and conservation easements by Pitkin and Eagle counties, with help from Great Outdoors Colorado and Basalt.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times |

Pitkin County and partners completed a hat trick last month when they purchased the last of three contiguous ranches in the Emma area to preserve as agricultural land and open space.

Pitkin and Eagle counties’ open space programs teamed to buy a conservation easement on 49 acres of Emma Farms for $2 million. Eagle County contributed $1.5 million and Pitkin County $500,000. Basalt contributed $50,000, which was returned to the counties. A deal was reached in March and recently closed.

The deal sterilizes three developable lots in Eagle County where homes as big as 8,250 square feet could have been constructed. A fourth home site in Pitkin County also was extinguished.

Emma Farms straddles the county line. Property owner Tom Waldeck had previously placed a conservation easement on 67 acres of the property.

The ranch will continue to be used for the cattle operations of Emma Farms Cattle Co. and Rory and Lucy Cerise.

The counties, with help from Basalt and Great Outdoors Colorado, bought 145 acres of the Saltonstall Ranch to the west of Emma Farms for $5 million in January 2013.

The counties, with the aid of a state grant, bought 137 acres between Saltonstall and Emma Farms in January 2014 for $5.9 million.

Saltonstall and Glassier were once part of the same large cattle operation and potato farm.

“We kind of put Humpty Dumpty back together again,” said Dale Will, executive director of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program.

The three properties — which combine for nearly 400 acres — are the core of a broader effort to preserve working ranches in the Emma area. Other open space purchases to the east include the Emma Open Space (65 acres), the Grange family conservation easement (252 acres), the Emma townsite (12.5 acres), the Crown Mountain Ranch, formerly Fender Ranch, conservation easement (559 acres), the Grace-Shehi purchase (25.5 acres) and the Parker family conservation easement at Happy Day Ranch (25.5 acres). In addition, the Tom Clark family placed a conservation easement on 120 acres by working with the Aspen Valley Land Trust.

On the far west of the broader Emma area, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies has placed a conservation easement on Rock Bottom Ranch. The property is a showcase for sustainable farming and ranching and a model on how ranching can interact with wildlife habitat.

“I was hired in 1997. At that time there was no open space in Emma,” Will said.

The area became the apple of the eye of the open space program when officials realized the opportunity to preserve existing ranch and farmland. It also prevents urban sprawl.

“The whole thing could have been turned into nasty suburban development or a country club,” Will said of the Emma core.

He noted that the open space program’s mission is to protect agricultural lands, wildlife habitat, open space and scenery. The Emma-area purchases get check marks in all areas.

“The legacy covers pretty much everything that makes the valley desirable,” Will said.

But the legacy isn’t necessarily complete.

“There are still some pieces we’d like to protect,” he said.