Moore family negotiating major conservation deal for their historic ranch |

Moore family negotiating major conservation deal for their historic ranch

Pitkin County would buy land, conservation easement for $10 million

The Moore property on McLain Flats Road in Aspen on Thursday, May 19, 2022. The family is working with Pitkin County on a conservation deal that would include historic designation of the home and barn. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

When Tom Moore took stock of what’s been happening over the years to his neighborhood on McLain Flats Road, he knew he had to take action.

“I don’t like big houses,” Moore said. “I don’t want this ranch to be wrecked.”

Tom and his wife, Carolyn, moved as a young couple to a secluded old ranch on McLain Flats Road roughly 3 miles outside of Aspen in 1966.

“When we moved out here, it was a lane-and-a-half dirt road,” he recalled. When two vehicles met, one had to pull over to let the other pass.

Their friends thought they were crazy moving “so far” out of town. For them, the ranch has always remained a “godsend” for 56 years. They live in the same humble house. A majestic red barn makes the property particularly eye-catching. Plus the fact that there are usually scores of elk lounging in the pastures during cold-weather months. Tom estimated 250 head of elk were taking refuge on the ranch just north of his house during the late-season snowstorm Friday.

“They’re all pretty good friends,” he quipped.

But development of luxury mansions has changed the character of the area, pressing in on both sides of the ranch.

“There’s got to be something done about it,” Moore said.

About 18 months ago, negotiations on a conservation proposal with Pitkin County ratcheted up a notch. On Wednesday, the county commissioners will consider an ordinance to strike a deal with the Moore family to purchase a portion of their ranch outright and obtain a conservation easement on much of the remainder. The contract is for up to $10 million.

The details

The property is zoned for one house per 20 acres, so it could yield up to 13 lots under a development scheme. At today’s real estate prices, the Moore family could reap much more than the $10 million the county is offering.

“They’d rather have a family legacy of conservation than squeeze every penny out of it,” said Dale Will, acquisition and special projects director for Pitkin County Open Space and Trails.

A memo from Will to the county commissioners lays out details of the proposal. Pitkin County would obtain about 95 acres of the Moore property west of McLain Flats Road. On the east side of the road, a conservation easement would be placed on 135 acres owned in full by the Moore family. That parcel includes the iconic ranch house and barn. There is the potential to place a conservation easement on an additional 42 acres of the ranch that the Moores own with others. If those 42 acres aren’t part of the deal, the total price would be reduced to $9 million.

The Aspen City Council will consider contributing $1 million to the purchase, according to Will’s memo.

The Moores will receive approval for one new home on the 135 acres the family fully controls on the east side of the road. A second home site would be approved if the 42 acres they own with other parties is part of the deal. Tom and Carolyn’s farmhouse will be historically designated and preserved.

The benefits

Will said the Moore property purchase and conservation easement checks all the boxes for the open space program. It preserves agricultural lands and view planes. There is clearly wildlife benefit and an opportunity to enhance recreation.

The 95 acres on the west side of the road lie within the Roaring Fork Gorge corridor, a 390-acre assemblage of properties already acquired by the open space program, Aspen Parks and Aspen Valley Land Trust.

Will’s memo said the 95-acre parcel to be acquired from the Moores “contains an intact sagebrush shrubland that is increasingly rare in the upper Roaring Fork Valley and provides important habitat for migratory songbirds and other sagebrush-dependent species. This purchase will benefit both wildlife and recreationists along the (Rio Grande Trail), and allow future planning efforts to optimize both habitat effectiveness and potential soft trails consistent with that objective.”

Of the 95 acres on the west side of the ranch, 15 acres are irrigated lands. The open space program would ensure that no structures are ever built in that “iconic viewshed” to preserve the view of Mount Daly and Sky Mountain Park to the west.

The property east of the road provides vital elk winter range and severe winter range on west-facing slopes.

“Anyone who travels the route between late fall and early spring cannot miss the fact that the Moore Ranch has become a sanctuary for Rocky Mountain elk, especially during their vulnerable migration and transition periods during the colder months,” Will’s memo said.

Irrigated meadows on the ranch are leased for hay production, which Will said remains an option for the future.

The family legacy

Tom and Carolyn Moore already have a lengthy track record of taking action for the good of the community. They were inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame in 2014 for all their endeavors and community involvement.

In addition to numerous volunteer efforts, they also donated land for the Aspen public school campus and for the Aspen Valley Ski Club headquarters. They were the first people to work with the open space program on a land sale.

“The first major purchase of the nascent Pitkin County Open Space Program in 1993 was Moore Open Space, which lies on the boundary into Aspen and is now one of the crown jewels of our program,” Will’s memo said.

The Moore open space provides land for a critical part of the Nordic trail system.

The Aspen Times detailed the Moores’ community involvement in a 2013 feature story.

For Tom, who was born in Aspen in 1942, this latest conservation arrangement ensures that a little slice of heaven remains the same in a rapidly changing community.

Tom and Carolyn will remain in what he called their “antique home.” It was a Sears Roebuck kit house that shipped to Woody Creek by rail and then was likely loaded onto hay wagons and moved on-site in the 1920s, Tom said. The barn also was a kit. It’s now Tom’s wood shop and office, what he called his “man barn.”

Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.