Long-awaited review of Ascendigo camp near Carbondale comes before county commissioners

Public hearing begins with scheduling site visit, continuance

Yard signs opposing the Ascendigo Ranch autistic children’s camp development have been popping up along roadways in the eastern portion of Missouri Heights as the public review process nears. In this photo, part of the subject property is seen on the lower bench in the distance.
John Stroud/Post Independent

A land-use dispute that’s been brewing for months in the area known as Missouri Heights northeast of Carbondale finally gets its day — or days in this case — before the Garfield County commissioners starting next week.

The Board of County Commissioners is slated to begin the public hearing process for the Ascendigo camp proposal at 1 p.m. Monday.

However, not much is expected to happen that particular day.

The commissioners intend to use that time to schedule a site visit in the coming days so they can get a better feel for the lay of the land.

The public hearing itself — at which a formal staff report is to be given, followed by a presentation from the developer, public comments, deliberation and a decision — is expected to be continued to a date in the near future after the site visit.

The proposal by Carbondale-based Ascendigo Autism Services to convert 126 acres of mostly undeveloped land just west of the Garfield-Eagle County line into a summer camp and year-round activities center for autistic children has been the subject of intense opposition from neighbors.

Likewise, there has been a fair amount of support for the plan, including from other nearby residents and benefactors of the Ascendigo organization.

Opponents, mostly homeowners in a string of large-lot subdivisions that straddle County Road 102 and Fender Lane, have organized as Keep Missouri Heights Rural in an effort to convince the commissioners to reject the plans.

“While we support the worthwhile goals of the organization, we do not support this commercial development of property in Missouri Heights,” the group proclaims on its website. “All told, Ascendigo is proposing to change the character of this portion of Missouri Heights from that of rural residential to commercial.”

Among their concerns are increased traffic and what they say are inadequate roads serving the area, impacts on the local water supply and potential wildfire danger.

The group also argues that the proposed use, including a 6,800-square-foot base camp facility, 8,500-square-foot lodge, 14,000-square-foot activity barn and equestrian center, are incompatible and out of scale with the surrounding residential and horse properties.

Though the project is being presented as an allowed “educational use” in the existing rural zone district with a limited impact review before the county commissioners, opponents argue that it introduces a commercial use to the area, and should be reviewed as such.

The group has orchestrated an aggressive letter-writing campaign in local newspapers against the proposal and, as of Monday, had gathered 475 signatures to be submitted in opposition.

To counter that, Ascendigo has stepped up its own promotional efforts to encourage support for the project.

“Our working name for the project is Ascendigo Ranch, a name representative of the activities, programming, and environmental sustainability envisioned for this spectacular space,” proponents wrote to email recipients, also directing supporters to a signature-gathering web page.

“Ascendigo Ranch is a visionary project that raises the bar for autism services while respecting the natural environment, surrounding neighborhood and historical uses of this special place,” the organization writes.

Ascendigo began in 2004 as a summer camp for autistic children. It has since grown to include year-round activities, support programs for families and equine therapy services.

The summer camp, held in recent years at the nearby Colorado Mountain College Spring Valley campus, offers eight weeks of residential camp programming.

“CMC has been our home for six years, but it is limited in that we have to follow their requirements … and the facilities aren’t really designed for those with autism,” Ascendigo Chief Operating Officer Dan Richardson said in a February interview. “The impetus for having our own property is that we can design it exactly to our needs.”

The larger property combines three parcels of land that are platted for up to 15 homes but had been envisioned by the previous owner for more than 20 houses and accessory dwellings on larger lots, similar to the surrounding subdivisions, according to Ascendigo’s application.

However, with the exception of some pre-development improvements, including some interior roads and a domestic water system, it was never developed.

Ascendigo, in its promotional materials, argues that its proposed use would have less impact than residential development, including fewer buildings, less peak traffic, not as many septic systems, better fire protection on site and improved access on the private Harmony Lane that also serves several residences in the vicinity.

“Ascendigo Ranch will also have better stewardship of fragile natural resources, stricter wildlife protection and more open space,” proponents say.

Garfield County’s Community Development Department confirmed that the proposal does not entail a zoning change, as erroneously claimed in some of the letters of opposition that have been written.

The property is in the Rural Zone District and will remain in the Rural Zone District (with the proposed use),” said Renelle Lott, chief communications officer for the county.

The proposal also did not require a public hearing before the Garfield County Planning Commission because, under the county’s land-use code, limited impact reviews go directly to the Board of County Commissioners.

*Note: This story has been revised from the original published version to reflect that the Ascendigo property entails three parcels platted for 15 homes but previously envisioned, not approved, for more than 20 homes.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or


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